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Businesses, employers, airlines, and more all within their rights to mandate vaccines

As coronavirus cases surge, could a vaccine be mandated? Health and legal experts weigh in
Posted at 6:09 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 09:41:37-05

CLEVELAND — Vaccine mandates or requirements could be as common as mask mandates if businesses, employers, and other institutions want to implement them.

“The vaccine is not just about protecting you,” said Case Western Reserve University The Law-Medicine Center Co-Director Sharona Hoffman. “It’s obviously also about protecting others such as patients, clients, and customers.”

Only a few doses are available in the United States right now and they are reserved for frontline workers and the most high-risk groups, so it could still be months before the general public has a chance to get vaccinated. That means any mandates or requirements are also still months away.

Pfizer Vaccine
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hoffman says when the time comes, many organizations and institutions in our daily life could require some kind of proof of vaccination just like we see requirements for masks and social distancing now.

Employer/Employee mandates

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which makes sure employers don’t discriminate against their employees, already offered guidance saying that employers are within their rights to require the COVID vaccine if they want.

News 5 Cleveland explained the effort right now in the nursing home and long-term care industry trying to convince staffers to take the vaccine when it’s available to them. More than half of Ohio’s nursing home staff have refused the vaccine so far, even though roughly half of the state’s COVID deaths are tied back to their facilities.

NURSING HOMES
More than half of Ohio's long-term care and nursing home facility staff have refused the COVID vaccine partially because of distrust.

The Ohio Health Care Association Executive Director Peter Van Runkle tells News 5 that there is no vaccine mandate in those facilities so far.

“Our board talked about it yesterday afternoon, but the consensus remains that it could be devastating to staffing, which already faces significant barriers with COVID-19, unemployment compensation, PPE and testing requirements, etc,” Van Runkle wrote in an email.

“Employees can refuse but they might be in a position where they have to find a different job because they’re really putting other people at risk if they don’t take the vaccine,” said Hoffman.

Businesses, clients and shoppers

Businesses have a different calculation to make.

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Anne Harrill's shop Oceanne closed at the beginning of the pandemic and reopend over the summer with modified hours.

Anne Harrill’s Detroit Shoreway shop Oceanne has been opened since June, after closing because of the coronavirus in March. She doesn’t have plans to mandate the vaccine in her store and has no idea when she might finally be able to get it in the first place.

‘We’re just going to wait and see,” said Harrill. “Every week we’re just going to make some new decisions and wait.”

“I think it’s very possible that businesses will have to calculate how do they lose more money,” said Hoffman. “Is it fear of contagion or people being angry they’re being asked for proof of vaccination?”

News 5 previously reported on how business owners could take the proper steps to limit their legal exposure if customers later tested positive for the coronavirus.

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When customers return to now-empty sidewalks, Frantz Ward lawyer Pat Haggerty says lawsuits will certainly follow if more people get sick.

The more likely alternative to vaccine mandates and requirements is less heavy-handed.

“There are different incentives and ways to motivate people that are less harsh than an absolute order and I think people are trying to think through that,” said Hoffman.

Extra privileges for vaccinated workers or patrons could nudge them towards a decision that a business wants them to make.

Harrill says she’s at the back of the line to get the vaccine, but her incentive is being able to see family from whom she’s been separated.

“I was supposed to travel to see my family in France, so I think I’ll get it as fast as I can so I can see my mom and my sister and everybody else,” said Harrill.

Schools

Hoffman says many students aren’t facing the same decisions yet because the vaccines aren’t approved for most school-aged children. Their teachers would be, though. Once vaccines are approved for young children, Hoffman expects many schools to require it and many parents to demand it.

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