COVID-19 Workplace: Should Vaccines Be Mandatory?

Early results from a COVID-19 vaccine trial surpassed expectations. As we approach the winter months with tens of thousands of new cases reported daily nationwide, this is wonderful news for the entire globe, something positive in sight. Especially for essential workers and employees returning to the office. Today, National Public Radio (NPR) reports that a second COVID-19 vaccine appears to be highly effective, the biotech company Moderna, Inc , announced that their vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing disease according to results of its clinical trial. Last week, Pfizer and its partner, the German company, BioNTech announced last week that preliminary results from their phase 3 vaccine trial showed it to be more than 90% effective. While vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary, recent studies by the CDC show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by 40-60% . As a comparison, the measles vaccine is 97% effective.


According to Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO, the company expects to ship about 20 million vaccine doses in the U.S. by the end of 2020. Next year, the expectation is to make 500 million to 1 billion doses worldwide. Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive has said that it could have 30 to 40 million doses of the vaccine before the end of the year, enough for 15 to 20 million people to get an initial shot and a booster three weeks later as reported in the New York Times.


Operation Warp Speed

Operation Warp Speed's goal is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021, as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics (collectively known as countermeasures).


Mandatory Vaccine Policies and Employee Resistance

As employers continue to grapple with the pandemic, another workplace challenge on the forefront is what happens when a number of your employees may resist a vaccine. The benefits of an inoculated (and presumably safe and healthy) workforce are obvious. But, according to a Gallup poll published In August 2020, the data shows that if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a free COVID-19 vaccine today, 35 percent of respondents would not receive the vaccine.


In the healthcare industry, mandatory vaccination programs for employees are common in an effort to reduce outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. The CDC website tracks these various state laws and their requirements. It makes sense, that employers are beginning to ask the question: “Can we require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19?” In general, the answer is yes, but just like other vaccines, employers may implement vaccination programs, subject to limited exemptions.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has yet to issue guidance on a COVID-19 vaccine. The EEOC has advised that flu vaccinations may not be mandated for all employees. Exceptions must be made for disability or religious accommodation requests. Proper notice must be provided as well.


Takeaway

If it is warp speed, are we ready to mandate vaccines as a condition of employment? Clearly, offices and other facilities will avoid pandemic-related closures and disruptions associated with social distancing, deep cleaning and other infection control measures with a new vaccine. Transparency is key here to explain why certain employee’s standards of conduct and safety protocols are being put into place, and why you want your workforce vaccinated.


Employers should also be mindful that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 vaccines are distributed. As a result, private employers considering making COVID-19 vaccination a gatekeeping employment condition should proceed with caution.


Employers need to remember to think through how they are going to track COVID-19 symptoms, test results, and now Vaccines. By documenting all three, you are creating a "health profile" for each employee and a "health profile" for the company as a whole. These details can be used to answer audits or inquiries from regulatory compliance agencies like the EEOC, OSHA, Workers' Comp, CDC, and more. Having these details on hand in a secure format can also mitigate future spread and intermittent shutdowns. Good2BeBack is the only app that tracks all three important factors and helps companies build their ongoing audit trail and health profile, which can be used for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases to come.


After all, we are all in this together, and how we handle challenges is how we show our character!

Carol Flynn is president of HR Solutions Inc and is a subject matter expert in sexual harassment, organizational development and workplace integration. She has over 25 years in human resource management and is a professor and educator with a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology; life-time certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR); certified EEOC trainer; and past investigative member of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee (FBGC). For further information, see www.hrsolutionsfl.com.

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