Bills to Block Mandatory Worker Vaccines Falter in the States

By: - February 23, 2021 12:00 am

Wendy Vottero, a nurse practitioner at Franciscan Health Crown Point hospital in Indiana, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shot from Rob Dowling, director of emergency medical service. Some state lawmakers want to prevent employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated. Kale Wilk/The Northwest Indiana Times via The Associated Press

Lawmakers in at least 23 states, often encouraged by vaccine skeptics, have proposed banning employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or other infectious diseases. Most bills are sponsored by Republicans, who say employees shouldn’t have to choose between getting a shot and staying employed.

“I just kind of like the idea of personal freedom, and that’s one of my biggest things as a legislator,” said Republican state Sen. Dennis Kruse, who sponsored one such bill in Indiana.

Although vaccines protect individuals and communities from disease outbreaks, online disinformation has turbocharged some people’s concerns about vaccine safety and potential mandates in recent years. Some anti-vaccine activists have spread false information about the science and public policy surrounding immunizations.

Yet despite lobbying from anti-vaccine groups, often known as anti-vaxxers, the employer mandate bills are unlikely to pass, experts say. That’s because the proposals threaten employers’ legal obligation to maintain a safe workplace and could put the lives of workers, customers and patients at risk.

Federal guidance issued in December allows employers to require that their workers get COVID-19 vaccines, although they must accommodate employees’ religious objections and also make sure vaccine requirements don’t discriminate against employees with disabilities.

Accommodating a religious objection could involve changing an unvaccinated worker’s job duties to maintain a safe workplace. For instance, employers could ask workers who refuse immunization to work remotely or wear protective gear.

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.