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The federal government may not try to force people to get the Covid vaccine.
And it may not have to.
Your employer, the restaurant where you want to eat, the concert venue you want to visit or the country where you want to travel may do it for them.
Employers are the big story today. And here’s where the federal government comes in again. It’s the largest employer in the country and President Joe Biden, wearing his CEO hat, announced Thursday that federal workers, with exceptions, will have to either get the shot or get tested each week.
While some states, like Texas and Florida, have moved to protect the unvaccinated from any sort of requirement, the federal government and corporate America are moving in the opposite direction and applying as much pressure as possible.
Is that a mandate or a requirement? CNN is calling it a requirement since the policy will require civilian federal workers to show proof of vaccination or face testing and other mitigation measures.
It’s only on the edge of a requirement, since there is an out in the form of testing. But it is certainly a requirement to prove, such as you can, that you’re free of the virus.
That’s a step short of a mandate, which requires proof of vaccination as a condition of employment and does not provide an alternate option, except in the case of medical and religious exemptions.
Bosses want to see your vax card. Biden’s not alone as bosses turn toward some kind of certainty for the majority of workers who probably already have the shot.
CNN’s Christine Romans has a roundup of how corporate America, after months of reluctance, is taking a harder stand with employees.
“The Delta variant of the virus has many companies tweaking their return to the office plans. Many had hoped to have employees back after Labor Day, now some are pushing back later into the fall. But they are signaling that vaccines will be required. Plan accordingly,” she writes, and notes that unvaccinated employees of MGM will have to isolate without pay if they turn up Covid-positive.
Who has vaccine requirements? CNN has a running list of large companies that have announced new Covid vaccine requirements, and they are predominantly Silicon Valley-based (Google, Facebook), Wall Street-based (BlackRock, Morgan Stanley), and health and media companies.
Opposition from unions. What you don’t see there are companies with large union workforces, and unions are likely to object to requirements.
The Washington Post writes about immediate objections to Biden’s requirement coming from unions representing postal workers and law enforcement officers.
That’s in line with opposition from other groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, whose members won’t be touched by Biden’s new requirement, but who are nonetheless insistent that a vaccine requirement be negotiated rather than pushed by fiat.
How many people work for the US government? The federal government is a leviathan with many, many tentacles. Even excluding the 1.4 million military service members who may be exempt from Biden’s requirement, there are still many millions of Americans who make their living either as full-time federal government employees (2.2 million), contractors (5 million) or grant employees (1.8 million), according to Brookings’ math from 2020. It appears different agencies will have latitude to enforce the requirement in different ways, but in any event this represents the nation’s largest employer likely telling millions of employees to get the shot or otherwise prove they are Covid-free.
Requiring vaccination for service. Proof of vaccination is already a must for that European vacation you’d like to take. It might also be coming for that nice meal you’d like to have.
“If you really want to go unvaccinated, you can dine somewhere else, and you can also go work somewhere else,” the restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, Danny Meyer, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Thursday. “I would call this a company policy rather than a mandate,” he added. His company runs upscale eateries in DC and New York.
There’s no word on whether Shake Shack, the fast-food chain he founded, will follow suit.
Lollapalooza, the music festival taking place in Chicago this weekend, will require concertgoers to show vaccine cards or negative Covid tests upon arrival and the unvaccinated will have to wear masks during the show.
Nudging vs. requiring. The NFL is not requiring vaccines, but it is making life much more difficult for unvaccinated players. They must get tested every day during training camp, adhere to travel restrictions, wear masks, stay out of the sauna and steam room (come on!!!), eat their meals separately and more. Even that’s not changing every mind.
What’s in the mind of the hard-core unvaccinated? Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has been outspoken in his opposition to getting the vaccine.
“I will be outside doing what I do. I’ll be out in public,” he warned people in June on Twitter. “If your (sic) scared of me then steer clear, or get vaccinated. Point. Blank. Period. I may die of covid, but I’d rather die actually living.”
In a statement Wednesday, Beasley said he wouldn’t take any more questions on the vaccine and just doesn’t think anybody knows enough about it.
No can’t be an option. As the Delta variant rages, there’s a growing line of thought that only requirements will force the hesitant or hostile to get the shot.
“I think they’re going to have to be swayed by mandates,” said Dr. Paul Offit, who sits on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, when he appeared Thursday on CNN. He pointed out that measles had been eradicated by school vaccine mandates in this country until it came back because pockets of parents rejected vaccines.
“Mandates are ‘You have to get the vaccine or else you don’t get to work here.’ You’re seeing that happen in the private sector. … Sometimes you have to compel people to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that’s where we are right now,” he said.
Next step: FDA approval. What could turbocharge requirements is full FDA approval of the vaccines. The military is being exempted from Biden’s vaccine requirement and leaders have suggested they will wait for full FDA approval before requiring soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to get the shot.
Many companies may be waiting for that green light as well.
“You get the FDA to say, ‘It’s final, it’s approved,’ and I can guarantee you all the places I’m involved in, if you don’t get vaccinated you will get fired,” Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone told CNBC on Wednesday. He sits on the board of trustees of the NYU Langone Medical Center. “You have an obligation to your fellow man to protect him as well as yourself.”
What’s taking so long? We’ve got a new story on the FDA approval process, which includes this:
“An FDA official told CNN on Wednesday that the agency continues to work as fast as possible to review the applications. The official noted that as part of the emergency use authorization granted last year, the vaccines have already undergone a “thorough scientific evaluation” in order to “meet FDA’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.”
(I’m trying to imagine the complete and utter chaos if, for some reason, the FDA doesn’t grant full authorization to vaccines that are already in the arms of about 50% of the country. Note: That is not expected to happen.)
Where are requirements already in place? Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist hospital network, was on CNN on Thursday and talked about his outfit’s requirement, announced in May and enacted in June.
“We were able to achieve near 100% vaccination,” he said. “We lost about half a percent of the work force; 26,000 individuals work at Houston Methodist. We lost 153 individuals who did not want to get vaccinated. About 1% of people have an exemption for a religious reason, 1% to deferred until after pregnancy; 98% of people are walking around vaccinated. And we’ve watched dozens of hospital systems follow suit.”
He also noted an uptick in vaccinations as Delta variant cases rise in Texas.
“They’re realizing it was a mistake and this is going out of control,” he said. “Unfortunately, while we’ve seen an uptick, it’s not enough.”
Most requirements from businesses I read about include a religious exemption, although relatively few people use it, if Houston Methodist is an indicator.
Not everyone agrees there should be a religious exemption. Here’s the argument that there should be no religious exemption, as written in the LA Times by the dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, who cites an opinion written by the conservative justice Antonin Scalia to back up his argument.
“Stopping the spread of a deadly communicable disease is obviously a compelling interest and vaccinations are the best way to reach that goal. No one, in practicing his or her religion, has a constitutional right to endanger others,” he says.
Then again, a federal court in Ohio once heard arguments in a case regarding the flu shot that equated deeply held veganism to a religious belief. The parties in that case settled.
The Supreme Court has not heard a case directly related to vaccine requirements in more than 100 years. That seems likely to change as more such requirements – from cities, states, employers and other groups – are enacted.
A federal court in Indiana this month preliminarily upheld Indiana University’s vaccine requirement for students. It allows for a religious exemption. Even still, the students argued the requirement deprived them of their liberty. So far, that’s not good enough.