The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced a federal vaccine mandate earlier in the year. These rules apply to three different groups, specifically federal workers, private sector organizations with 100 or more employees, and healthcare workers at facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
There has been some pushback, and some of the requirements are on hold while the courts decide if these regulations are an “overreach of government authority and a threat to employers already stretched thin in the pandemic,” according to NPR. While this is happening, the arrival of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has employers scrambling to reconsider their return-to-work plans. The White House maintains its stance that these vaccines are vital to combatting the spread of COVID-19.
“Vaccination requirements have increased vaccination rates by more than 20 percentage points – to over 90% – across a wide range of businesses and organizations,” according to the White House. “According to Wall Street analysts, vaccination requirements could result in as many as 5 million American workers going back to work, and a survey of prominent, independent economists found unanimous agreement that vaccination requirements will ‘promote a faster and stronger economic recovery.'”
Case Studies in Vaccine Mandates
Regardless of what’s happening in the courts, some states and individual organizations have begun testing the waters of vaccine mandates. To start, federal contractors have until January 4, 2022 to be fully vaccinated (two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson) and most are moving forward. Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee are the only states blocking that regulation.
In addition, New York City set a broad vaccine mandate for all private sector employers effective December 27, 2021. Even earlier, NYC had a mandate in place for city workers, educators, and healthcare workers. People in those categories are 90% vaccinated, and the thousands of unvaccinated in those sectors are on unpaid leave.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio urges other cities to do the same, but his administration will step down on January 1, 2022. In other words, Mayor-Elect Eric Adams will review and could potentially change the rules. In any case, some see New York City as a case study of the vaccine mandate. It is a work in progress and people will be keeping their eye on the city to see how everything unfolds.
OSHA and Healthcare Regulations
In the meantime, the White House has established these guidelines, which are facing scrutiny in the courts:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is requiring companies with 100 or more employees to determine which of their workers are vaccinated and which are not. Unvaccinated workers in these organizations are required to wear a mask and get tested weekly. The OSHA rule covers 84 million employees.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are requiring most healthcare workers in the United States to be vaccinated with no option for testing. This rule includes 17 million workers at about 76,000 facilities.
What’s Next for Vaccine Mandates?
If the courts approve of the mandates, the deadline for being fully vaccinated is January 4, 2022. Full vaccination means you have had two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Some organizations might decide to require a booster for those who were fully vaccinated more than six months ago. This is becoming a hot topic for discussion as the Delta variant continues to spread and the Omicron variant surfaces in the United States and around the world.
Biden’s administration has pointed out that these regulations, should they get approval in the courts, preempt state or local laws, including those that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccinations, masks, or testing. Navigating the rules is important. But many employers are trying to do the right thing while respecting the different points of view that employees have. While some of these issues have become politically volatile ones, they are challenging employers to make decisions that keep everyone safe in uncertain times. Vaccine mandates seem like they will be part of the future as companies embrace the new normal and try to avoid more economic turmoil.
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