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Lawmakers discuss govt mandates for COVID-19 vaccinations

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Getting a COVID-19 vaccine shot should be made mandatory especially for ASG employees. That was the firm suggestion from Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean and Rep. Larry S. Sanitoa at last week’s joint Fono hearing with several COVID-19 Task Force members, to answer questions relating to the three recent imported COVID-19 positive cases from travelers who returned from Honolulu last month.

Earlier in the more than 2-hour hearing, Rep. Sanitoa asked task force Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Alailima-Utu if there is a government plan to build a quarantine site with 200 to 300 rooms.

Alailima-Utu responded that there are still plans but with a much fewer number of rooms for quarantined travelers in the future.

Sanitoa then said that if the federal government can mandate having people vaccinated, “we should do that”.

“We should actually do that with all our people,” he said, adding “we’re promoting bad behavior” with the monetary incentive offered by ASG so that people get their shots. He said the $5 million for this program could have been used for something else.

He said people have already benefited from federal stimulus money and making it a mandate to be vaccinated, people won’t have a choice.

Alailima-Utu responded that the governor and lieutenant governor are still reviewing this matter. Perhaps, start with government employees mandated to be vaccinated, he said but emphasized that no decision has been made.

Tuaolo recalled that US President Biden has mandated vaccinations for federal employees and even employees who work for companies that are contractors for the federal government. He said vaccination should be a mandate. Tuaolo also pointed to the millions of dollars of federal money allocated for American Samoa relating to COVID-19.

Alailima-Utu responded that Biden’s directive covered federal employees and that is outside of the governor’s authority. 

He said ASG employees are the ones to which the governor can extend authority for mandatory vaccination. But at this point in time, the governor has not issued a mandate for vaccination for ASG employees but it’s an issue being looked at.

Tuaolo again questioned why it’s not mandatory, saying that senators were among the first people on island to get fully vaccinated earlier this year. He then revealed that he plans to issue a plan, in which anyone who is not vaccinated will not be allowed to enter the Senate compound to work.

Alailima-Utu again responded that the governor and lieutenant governor are still reviewing the issue and are also looking at what’s happening in states where there are court challenges to such a mandate. He believes that there will be a time when it’s mandated, but he stressed that he cannot say as to when that would happen for ASG employees.

Tuaolo said don’t bring what’s happening off island to American Samoa — those states have many laws.

He strongly recommended to enforce a mandate on individuals who qualify to get vaccinated. He said American Samoa is getting the shots free.

He then commended the Health Department and the task force for their continuing hard work.