The federal government, through Operation Warp speed, helped develop and bring to market vaccines against the new disease COVID-19 in less than a year, an unprecedented accomplishment. But that success will be for naught unless the doses are used to vaccinate people.
As I discussed in my October 2020 CEI report, “Science May be the Easy Part,” getting people to take the shots may pose a bigger hurdle than the scientific challenge of making a new vaccine against a novel virus. Even before COVID-19, employers, especially health care facilities, were increasingly requiring employees to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases. These mandates don’t violate statutory and constitutional constraints as long as they accommodate workers with medical contraindications to vaccination and workers with genuine religious objections. Recent guidance from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has confirmed that employers may, subject to the limitations outlined above, mandate that their employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Businesses have financial and reputational incentives to protect their employees, patrons, and residents, and are therefore anxious to facilitate vaccination of their workers. Vaccinated employees will not become ill or infect their coworkers, reducing absenteeism. They will incur lower health care costs, eventually leading to reduced premiums for employer-provided health insurance. A vaccine-protected enterprise will better attract safety-conscious customers and employees. And vaccinating employees could forestall tort liability for failing to protect customers and other workers from infection and satisfy government workplace safety requirements.
While some employers have, thus far, stopped short of requiring employers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, several have started to offer their workers incentives to be vaccinated, including increased pay, paid time off the day after a vaccine, and bonuses. Unfortunately, employers face a welter of state and local regulations dealing with who is eligible to be vaccinated, who can give the shot, and where it can be administered.
The time has come to simplify these regulations so that we can utilize existing, private channels to maximize vaccine uptake and end the pandemic. Every year, Americans are vaccinated against influenza, and about 15 percent get their flu shots at work. Simplifying and clarifying state and local regulations will encourage employers, who already play an important role in vaccinations for infectious diseases, to offer their employees and, if necessary, mandate COVID-19 vaccinations.