As joyous and teary videos circulate of health care workers and care home residents receiving the first vaccines for COVID-19, conversation in every field is circling around vaccines in general. While the COVID-19 vaccines, the first major mRNA vaccines, are the safest and most effective inoculations ever made, many still have concerns. And one of those concerns is about whether or not vaccinations will be mandatory.
So far, there is no indication of a government mandate requiring the vaccine, either at the federal or state level. But on a smaller scale, people want to know who else could require it.
Well, workplaces, for one. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officially ruled over a decade ago that employers could require employees take various vaccines (usually applied to the yearly flu vaccine), and they’ve made a statement that the COVID-19 vaccines will also fall under this ruling.
“Experts generally have wide scope,” to impose mandates on their workforce, according to Dorit Reiss, a law professor who specifically focuses on vaccine policies. A tight field, but one that has never been more relevant.
But does having the option to make vaccines mandatory for workers mean employers will do so? That’s a separate question. Ensuring compliance with a mandatory vaccine is an administrative burden, one with costs that can rapidly scale up. The fact that the COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses and a specific interval between them would amplify those costs. And if employers allow the common exemptions for religion or medical complication, that is a mountain of paperwork as well. If they don’t, then there’s an increased risk of legal claims, both legitimate and spurious.
Employment advisers predict that employers will most likely strongly encourage vaccination, possibly even with incentives, rather than outright require it. But it will be up to each company, individually—so your employer could go either way. Only time will tell.