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Judge dismisses lawsuit against COVID-19 vaccination policies for Hawaii state and county employees

A federal judge has dismissed a complaint objecting to state and county COVID-19 vaccination policies for employees, in essence determining the plaintiffs were never forced to take the vaccines.

A dozen county employees — 10 first responders from the City and County of Honolulu and two from Maui County — filed the lawsuit Aug. 13, arguing they were being forced to take “experimental” coronavirus vaccines. But in a ruling issued today, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson pointed out that none of the plaintiffs “has been required or ‘forced’ to take a COVID-19 vaccination. And none will be. Instead, the challenged State policy allows an employee to forego vaccination completely and opt to undergo testing instead — an approach Plaintiffs commend.”

In August, as the state was experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, Gov. David Ige implemented an emergency rule requiring state and county workers either to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Watson’s ruling said the permitted option to take regular COVID-19 tests in lieu of vaccines makes moot the claim of forced vaccination. The order also noted that the same version of the Pfizer vaccine was first granted emergency use authorization and then fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 23, eliminating the argument it was “experimental.”

On the plaintiffs’ claim that the use of experimental COVID-19 tests, like polymerase chain reaction tests, infringed on their right to make personal medical decisions, the order said the employees’ themselves had argued “rapid testing is the best and most effective method to combat outbreaks of COVID-19 because it can detect when someone is infected.”

The defendants, who include Ige, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, filed motions Oct. 15 to dismiss the complaint.

Watson also denied the employees’ motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the vaccine policies.

In a statement today, Honolulu city spokesman Tim Sakahara said, “Judge Watson’s dismissal of this case vindicates the City’s legal position and maintains in place a critical City and County of Honolulu employee safety measure. We thank all City employees who have researched the benefits of the vaccine and received their shot to protect themselves, their coworkers and their families. COVID-19 vaccines are free, safe and effective, and everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated.”

Order Granting Motions to D… by Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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