3 Things: Vaccine game-changer edition

President Biden’s sweeping orders last week requiring vaccinations in the federal and private workforce could affect 100 million Americans.
By Tony Silber      

President Biden’s sweeping orders last week requiring vaccinations in the federal and private workforce could affect 100 million Americans.

But it also changed the equation regarding vaccination, shifting the momentum in the direction of vaccine requirements and away from the notion that public health and ending the pandemic are merely a matter of personal choice. Now, as Biden was quoted as saying, “Our patience is wearing thin.”

With that in mind, here are 3 Things to know, starting with a comprehensive look at Biden’s announcement.

1. Biden’s new vaccination mandate changed the equation for many organizations. Most are already in sync and some are not, but either way, expect tensions and frustration to escalate.

In the orders, all executive branch employees and federal contractors will be required to be vaccinated. Biden also announced new vaccination requirements for health care providers. He said he asked the Department of Labor to issue an emergency rule requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any unvaccinated workers to produce a negative COVID test at least once a week.

2. As more companies seek to enforce vaccine mandates—and employees voice growing concerns over rigid coronavirus ultimatums—here’s guidance on how best to proceed.

Are you prepared to fire an unvaccinated worker who shows up to the office? CNN did just that, in one of the first instances of a private employer bringing down the hammer on mandatory workplace vaccine policies. It certainly won’t be the last such case. As BBC reports, CNN canned three employees who refused to comply with its COVID-19 protocols. In an internal memo, CNN boss Jeff Zucker wrote, “Let me be clear—we have a zero-tolerance policy on this.” And Walter Foster, a labor and employment attorney with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott’s Boston office, says other companies may follow CNN’s lead in terms of swift, hard-nosed enforcement. BBC notes that corporate giants such as Facebook, Google and United Airlines have all announced that they’ll require onsite employees to offer vaccination proof, while Goldman Sachs is “requiring employees to disclose their vaccination status.”

3. Sound legal guidance on vaccine incentives: A prominent employment lawyer argues that vaccine mandates are legal, and shares advice on how employers can mitigate the risk of triggering a viable discrimination claim. Self-described “anti-vaxxers” raise various objections to immunization—from fear of long-term side effects to significantly more “eccentric” concerns (such the idea that the COVID-19 vaccine places a microchip in your body that allows your movements to be tracked by the federal government). The employment lawyer Brian Weinthal says that while many less rational oppositions to vaccination might seem humorous, a sustained and ongoing campaign of internet disinformation is not helping the currently available vaccines to gain traction among individuals who are ambivalent about their safety and benefits.

And new data suggests that workplace incentives might be the key to engaging with anti-vaxxers to change their mindsets regarding the acceptability of COVID-19 vaccines.