On Thursday, the Statehouse steps were filled with those who oppose the COVID-19 vaccination as a workplace requirement.
Hundreds of thousands of Idahoans have chosen to get vaccinated, but as the number of people opting to get a dose declines, Idaho's three largest healthcare systems announced all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19
This announcement was met with mixed reactions among community members and lawmakers.
While there is no statewide vaccine mandate in Idaho, private companies can set vaccine requirements for employees, but Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin says for those unvaccinated, Idaho needs to be more proactive at protecting their individual liberty.
McGeachin has requested Speaker of the House Scott Bedke to call the legislature back to take action on the vaccine mandates. She also says several bills were introduced during the 2021 legislative session, but they didn't go anywhere and so she's asking now the legislature to go back into session and take action.
“The legislature had an opportunity to deal with these issues during the spring, but they did not. Now just a few months later, this distant threat has materialized, and thousands of Idahoans are facing discrimination or termination because of their personal health decisions,” McGeachin said.
McGeachin spoke alongside nurses and doctors opposing vaccine mandates as the statehouse steps started to fill with people holding signs and expressing their opinions on a vaccine requirement in the workplace.
“We need our leaders, our senators our governors, our legislators. We need them to listen. We the people…we the free people are standing up and are not going to allow this to happen and we will do whatever it takes to stand strong and to stand free," Phlebotomist Linda Goodrich said.
A nursing student took the podium after McGeachin and expressed her concern over potentially losing colleagues.
“Nurses who gave their all during this pandemic are still being asked to work more shifts,” A nurse practitioner student, Kelti Barker said. “If we continue down this path, community health will suffer as a direct result of an even greater nursing shortage because we failed to take a stand.
Private businesses in the Gem State can require vaccinations because Idaho is a “work at will” state and private health care companies have required vaccinations of all kinds for decades. Still, McGeachin is calling on the Idaho legislature to step in.
“Instead of hiding bills in drawers, we need to have an open and honest discussion about Idahoans concerns and the solutions necessary to address them,” McGeachin said.
The Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus opposes reconvening the legislature following the announcement from the health systems requiring vaccinations.
In a press release, they stated the current policies have exemptions already in place and hospitals have a responsibility to all who enter their businesses.