LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Amid a lawsuit over requiring some employees to get COVID vaccines, a southern New Mexico county now says all new employees need to agree to get the vaccine to start their job. The latest policy change in Doña Ana County marks one of the first if not the only New Mexico county to require COVID vaccination as a condition of employment with the government agency.
The policy change is outlined Saturday, May 15 sent to all county employees. In the announcement, Doña Ana County Manager Fernando Macias wrote, “over 90% of county employees have been vaccinated and all new employees are required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Macias further clarified that the new vaccine requirement will only apply to new employees. The requirement will not apply to existing employees, so far. Macias, in part, believes Doña Ana County has one of the highest rates of vaccination among government agencies in the state.
“Our goal is to continue to work to get closer to 100 percent of all county employees that are vaccinated,” Macias said. “That way there is a heightened level of security both for all the employees who’ve already been vaccinated, as well as knowledge of the public that when they step into county buildings that nearly every employee has been vaccinated.”
Macias says the requirement for COVID vaccination will be written into new employees’ offer letters. “Like any offer of employment, if someone chooses not to accept the vaccination requirement, they can reject the offer of employment,” said Macias.
The latest policy change is contrary to what the New Mexico Department of Health recently outlined about COVID vaccinations. At a May 5 news conference, New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said the state is continuing to ask that people be vaccinated, but the state isn’t requiring it.
“Given that (the COVID vaccine) is an (Emergency Use Authorization,) it’s not like a mandatory vaccine,” Dr. Collins said. “We strongly want everyone to get it, and we know that some academic institutions are looking at maybe moving towards requiring that to return in the fall, but right now, we’re just looking at this from the standpoint (of) given that it’s EUA, we’re asking you to please get the vaccine, we’re not requiring it.”
Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines all have earned approval for “Emergency Use Authorization” from the federal Food and Drug Administration. However, no vaccine has yet to receive “full” approval. That top-level regulatory approval is what many employers have opted to wait for before imposing any COVID vaccine requirements.
However, Macias believes the county is on a solid legal footing to make the latest vaccine requirement a condition of accepting new employment with the county. Meanwhile, nearly 94% of the county’s nearly 900 employees have already gotten a COVID vaccine.
“From both a legal and a management perspective, I have no question of what we are doing can stand any scrutiny in any kind of lawsuit or litigation,” Macias said.
The remaining unvaccinated county employees who were already working with the county before this rule took effect are not being forced to get vaccinated under the latest change. However, if Pfizer earns full approval as it’s now seeking from the feds, Macias says the county will likely at the very least investigate the possibility of forcing vaccinations on all existing employees.
The county is already fighting a federal lawsuit tied to a vaccine requirement implemented earlier this year. That requirement remains in place for the county’s jail workers or corrections officers and first responders.