On March 1, Silverado, a company that runs 22 assisted living facilities, decided to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for its thousands of workers. It became the first long-term care corporation to require that employees have at least an appointment for a shot in order to keep their jobs. Experts predict it certainly will not be the last.
According to The Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control has not issued any guidance on the question of any government or company mandating vaccination, nor has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
However, last December the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that employers could legally require COVID-19 vaccines, but they needed to offer alternatives before terminating them if the employees refused. For example, the EEOC said that an employer could exclude a worker if he or she refused the vaccine which could threaten the workplace. But the employer must also offer that employee the opportunity to work remotely or to take a leave of absence.
Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California who specializes in legal and policy issues related to vaccines, tells AARP that ”employment in the United States is generally ‘at will,’ which means that your employer can set working conditions.”
However, if employees have deep seated religious convictions or medical reasons why they do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Reiss says that employers could be legally required to offer alternatives such as wearing a mask or working remotely.
”If you can achieve the same level of safety as the vaccine via mask, or remote working, you can’t fire the employee. You need to give them an accommodation,” she says.
Hospitals across the country are sitting on the fence. Even those who require that their employees get the annual flu vaccine are not making the same ruling on COVID-19 shots. But Nancy Foster, the vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, says that many facilities are offering time off to get vaccinated and even sweetening the pot with cash bonuses.
There is a perplexing reluctance among healthcare workers to get vaccinated. According to the Los Angeles Times, researchers are surprised at the reaction of frontline healthcare workers across the country who should be more aware of the science behind the vaccines and willing to get the jab. According to experts, the safety and efficacy of both the Pfizer and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has been proven according to data from clinical trials involving thousands of people.
A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey found that 29% of healthcare workers were hesitant about getting vaccinated compared to 27% of people in the general sector. Respondents to the survey explained that they had concerns about side effects and did not trust the safety of the vaccines. Some said they felt the dangers of COVID-19 were exaggerated, according to the Times.
Even staffers at nursing homes that have been hard hit by the virus said they were reluctant to get the vaccine. ”They are scared of the side effects, they don’t know what is going to happen or if it will really protect them,” said one vocational nurse from a Los Angeles nursing home.
A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and KFF found that 1 in 6 healthcare workers said they would leave their jobs rather than get vaccinated. When Silverado’s March 1 mandate began, about 10 percent or 137 of the workers who were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine asked for an exemption. The company agreed with 36 requests based on religious or medical grounds, 10 resigned, and about 24 took leaves of absence to think things through. The rest got their shots.
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