One week after the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees went into effect, more than 20 state troopers must get vaccinated, or face termination, after the Baker administration denied their requests for medical or religious exemptions.
The president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts says that troopers began receiving the denials on Friday, and expects more are on the way.
All state employees — about 42,000 people — in Massachusetts were required to be vaccinated by last Sunday, Oct. 17. By that date, the Baker administration said about 96% of employees complied with the mandate, or received an exemption.
The administration has said previously that it is addressing exemption requests on a rolling basis, and did not provide specifics of when all requests would be reviewed.
Nearly 200 state police troopers are still awaiting a response to their waiver applications. The Baker administration says more than 90% of state police were in compliance as of last week.
The union is asking the Baker administration to allow troopers who don't want to be vaccinated to get tested weekly and wear a mask.
"We're not anti-vaccination. I was excited to get it, our entire board was for it," said Michael Cherven, the union's president. "It's just ... we have two to three hundred people who have, what I would consider, a reasonable request to wear a mask. And why can't we allow that?"
The union provided WBUR with the denied waiver request of Sgt. Stephen Candito. Candito sought a medical waiver because he says he developed Bell's palsy after receiving a vaccine in 1998.
In the denial letter, the reviewing officer acknowledges that Candito provided medical documentation establishing cause for concern. But the letter says granting the waiver would cause the department undue hardship because "there is no accommodation that would allow the Department to protect the safety of your colleagues and the public without sustaining a significant adverse impact on operations and undermining the public's trust in the State Police to keep them safe."
Gov. Charlie Baker has said continuous COVID-19 testing is "counterproductive" in reaching the policy's goal of keeping the state employees and the public safe from the virus.
The administration says troopers who still refuse to get the vaccine after a waiver denial will be suspended without pay. If they continue to refuse, they will be fired.
The union previously tried to challenge the vaccine mandate in court and lost.
Cherven says he still hopes they can reach a deal with the state on accommodations.
The troopers "just want to go back and do their jobs. These are hard working, good dedicated troopers, and they just want to be left alone and do police work," he said. "And it's my job to fight for them, and our job as an association to try to get that done."