(CN) — The post-vaccine, pre-business as usual limbo is likely to stretch into the fall, as many employers weigh questions about how to manage the return to in-person work.
Top of mind for some companies is whether to require employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine. A few that have done so are already seeing legal challenges, despite the majority of employees saying they want the comfort of knowing that coworkers have been vaccinated.
Whether through mandates or other methods, it may be that companies are uniquely positioned to encourage vaccination rates, picking up slack after a monthslong government-led campaign has plateaued.
The country is now on the verge of falling behind federal vaccination goals. President Joe Biden’s plan to get 70% of American adults at least one dose by July 4 now looks like a long shot.
That’s due to wide variation across states; while more than a dozen states have met the 70% mark already, other states lag, like Mississippi, which is on track to fall short of 50% by Independence Day, AP reported.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said Biden’s goal may still be within reach. But we would need to pick up the pace to get there. Around a million vaccines are being delivered each day — though the number has dipped as low as 400,000 — and the daily rate needs to rise to about 2 million in order to get on track.
Think of July 4 as a “touchpoint,” Benjamin told Courthouse News in a phone interview.
“Once we reach that — you know, it’s not a magic number — we’re going to have to then set a new goal,” he said.
When Biden set his goal pertaining to adults, for instance, the Pfizer vaccine was not yet approved for kids ages 12 and up. So the country may next set its sights on vaccinating younger people and making sure everyone who got a first dose shows up for their second.
Benjamin said that while vaccine hesitancy accounts for some of the people who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated, the hard-to-reach groups include people who are homebound, have severe mental or physical disabilities — raising potential consent issues — or are in confinement.
Many others just haven’t gotten around to it, though. That’s where employers may be able to step in.
Office Vax: Mandates and Incentives
There’s good reason for businesses to promote vaccination. For one, as epidemiologists have pointed out, reining in the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus doesn’t stop the virus from disrupting business.
Most employees also say they want to know that their co-workers are protected. In a survey conducted by Harvard Business School Online, 71% of respondents said they are hesitant to go back to the office until everyone is fully vaccinated.
Mitigating risks, for some companies, means requiring Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of employment — or to attend in-person classes, in the case of students.
Some companies, as well as universities, are already making the move. (Courthouse News has a mandatory vaccine policy for its staff.)
Houston Methodist Hospital was an early adopter of a Covid-19 vaccine mandate. It is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by more than 100 staff members at the end of May challenging the policy.
Similar lawsuits have arisen in other states. In California, a group of teachers and counselors are suing the Los Angeles school district, and a former deputy in Durham is taking on the county sheriff’s vaccine policies.
Whether the lawsuits have a shot in court remains to be seen, and as Courthouse News previously reported, employment lawyers have their eyes on the Houston trial.