The Department of Justice has released an opinion, dated July 6, 2021, on the legality of vaccine mandates, specifically the COVID vaccines under EUA (Emergency Use Authorization). The opinion states:
“As access to the COVID-19 vaccines has become widespread, numerous educational institutions, employers, and other entities across the United States have announced that they will require individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, enrollment, participation, or some other benefit, service, relationship, or access.”¹
“For instance, certain schools will require vaccination in order for students to attend class in person, and certain employers will require vaccination as a condition of employment.”¹
There are certain conditions that need to be put into practice in order for the mandates to stand, according to the opinion:
“…directs FDA to impose conditions on an EUA ‘designed to ensure that individuals to whom the product is administered are informed . . . of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks.’”¹
For the COVID vaccines, the FDA implemented this by way of the Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers to be made available to all who are considering the vaccine before it is administered. Recipients must also be made aware they have the option to accept or refuse, however, the entity enforcing the vaccine mandate may make their services or benefits limited to those who accept. This may include in-person classes as well as jobs.
Mandates for VA
The Department of Veterans Affairs made vaccinations mandatory on Monday, July 26, for all healthcare workers. This is the first federal agency to do so. The mandate goes into effect in eight weeks. Employees will receive an additional four hours of paid leave after providing proof of full vaccination. Vaccines are available to all employees through the VA medical system.²
Mandates and Reactions For NYC
Following the VA lead, Mayor Bill deBlasio of New York City announced new requirements for all city employees. Employees including, police, fire, EMS, teachers, sanitation, and others would either need to be fully vaccinated or undergo COVID testing weekly starting mid-September. The new requirements add to last week’s requirements for all healthcare workers in the city to be vaccinated.³
The eight week deadline gives time for people to go through the vaccine process. In the meantime, any unvaccinated employee who does not wear a mask indoors will face consequences. While DeBlasio did not go into details as to what those consequences are, Renee Campion, New York Commissioner of Labor Relations, said,
“workers who are unvaccinated and refuse to wear a mask will be removed from the work site and won’t be paid.”⁴
In response, FDNY EMS Local 2507, spoke out opposing the mandates without collective bargaining:
“FDNY EMS Local 2507 is strongly opposed to these new workplace mandates being forced upon all 4,300 of our members by Mayor de Blasio. These must be a subject of collective bargaining. The city and the mayor cannot simply disregard the civil liberties of the workforce. The United States FDA has YET to give final approvals of the Covid-19 vaccinations and that remains troubling for some. The union is open to dialogue with the city about the details around Covid vaccinations and testing. More immediately, will testing be done on duty or has overtime been authorized to accomplish this new mandate? Will the city provide for and pay for weekly testing, or are our EMT’s, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors expected to fund this out of their own pockets? Our members at FDNY EMS are highly trained medical professionals, yet they continue to be disrespected and disregarded by city leadership, which believes we can feed our families on poverty wages. Instead of dictating more royal edicts upon workers, the mayor should instead concentrate on providing more support for the women and men who serve as New York City’s medical first responders. I am calling on all public employees to stand up and make their voices heard loud and clear to the Mayor.”⁵
The United Federation of Teachers spoke in favor of the mandate suggesting the mandatory testing would offer an option to the vaccine.⁶
California Follows Suit
In California, 238,000 state employees and 2 million health care workers will be required to either show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing starting in August.
“As the state’s largest employer — we’re leading by example. Vaccines are the solution. We encourage local governments and other businesses to follow suit,”⁷ Newsom stated in a tweet.
Newsom is facing a recall election in September for his unpopular handling of the COVID pandemic.
Mandates For Colleges and Universities
Increasing numbers of colleges and universities are also issuing vaccine mandates. The mandates vary from school to school. Some include faculty and staff, some are limited to students in-person. Other schools are relying on incentives to encourage students to get the vaccine. From scholarships to no COVID testing, freer movement on campus and participation in activities, schools are hoping that students will take it upon themselves to decide to get vaccinated. Other schools are staying out of the discussion and allowing students to make their own choices, no questions asked.⁸