SAN ANTONIO — Now that Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has received full FDA approval, employers can legally require their employees to get vaccinated in Texas.
That represents a win for San Antonio ISD administrators after the district was recently sued by Attorney General Ken Paxton in the aftermath of an order that all staff should be vaccinated by mid-October.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said he was encouraged upon finding out about the vaccine's status, adding he was anticipating the approval when he implemented the COVID-19 vaccine mandate last week.
SAISD is the first district in Texas to impose such a mandate.
"(What) that allows us to do is to go ahead and fully implement that mandate," Martinez said.
He estimates about 90% of faculty and staff have already received their vaccine. The superintendent said he will have conversations with employees if they refuse to get immunized, whether it be because of medical or religious exemptions, but said separation from the district will not be taken off the table.
"This is about safety and it's also about making sure that we can minimize quarantine," Martinez said.
Paxton opposed the district's move in court, filing a lawsuit claiming SAISD was violating state law. GA-38 states no governmental entity can force someone to get a COVID-19 vaccine under emergency use authorization.
But Randy Erben, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the executive order no longer applies to the Pfizer vaccine now that it has received the full green light from the FDA.
"GA-38 does not apply. Those prohibitions don't apply anymore until and unless the governor amends his executive order or issues a new one," Erben said.
Erben said SB 968 would also not apply. The legislation prohibits businesses from requiring customers to provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccines prior to being served. The bill also states a governmental entity may not issue a vaccine passport or related documentation to certify an individual's vaccine COVID-19 status to a third party for a purpose other than healthcare.
Erben said the bill does not address employees or contractors.
"This situation, just like the mask mandates, it's like the Texas weather; if you don't like it, stick around, it'll change," Erben said. "I think we'll have a number of court challenges to all these local orders and even maybe some of the state ones."
Martinez said he will remain vigilant even as FDA approval is working in their favor.
"It appears right now that the vaccine mandate or that the vaccine lawsuit is going to be dropped," Martinez said.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General did not reply to a request for comment.
SAISD has also implemented a mask mandate. The district’s COVID-19 positivity rate is currently 1.86%, compared to Bexar County’s positivity rate which sits at 13.3% as of Tuesday afternoon.
"I think, for us, we have a responsibility to be serving," Martinez said.
SAISD’s changes come as Martinez is also being considered a finalist for the role of CEO at Chicago Public Schools.
"I have full confidence in my board, so regardless of what happens, I'll tell you, our district is always going to be in good hands because we have an amazing board and I've built a strong team," Martinez said.