ACOVID-19 vaccine mandate for Saint Paul city employees is still on the drawing board and may not be formally proposed until mid-November. City Council members who passed a resolution calling for the vaccine mandate more than a month ago have expressed impatience with the delays and are seeking a progress report before the measure returns to the City Council on October 20.

Saint Paul was one of the first local units of government to adopt a vaccine mandate, said Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert, but it may be the last to implement one.

The mandate, which has the support of Mayor Melvin Carter, would affect the city’s roughly 3,000 full-time and part-time employees. What has caused the delay are ongoing negotiations with the city’s various labor unions and employee bargaining groups. The complexity of tracking who is and is not already vaccinated is another factor, according to city human resources director Toni Newborn.

“We have to negotiate in good faith what impact such a policy would have on city staff,” Newborn said. There needs to be a discussion of what refusing a vaccine means for an employee, she said. Newborn’s department also must determine who would have access to what is considered to be private medical information.

“There’s also a technology aspect to it,” said Newborn. Her department does not have a mechanism in place to collect vaccine information on employees. It is working with the city’s Office of Technology and Communications and the state of Minnesota to develop the needed software. Federal American Rescue Plan funds have been eyed to help cover the additional costs.

“I will say I’m disappointed,” Tolbert said.

“I’m really deeply disappointed with the response (of city staff),” said Ward 7 City Council member Jane Prince. “It is children in our community who are most at risk.”

Prince pointed out the number of city employees who work with younger children who cannot be vaccinated or who have younger children themselves. According to her, the City Council has had no communication from the mayor’s office since the resolution mandating vaccines was adopted.

Ward 4 City Council member Mitra Jalali said that while she appreciates the privacy issue, she questioned the need for more technology. Newborn said the technology is not something that can be bought “off the shelf,” but needs to be custom-made.

— Jane McClure

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