In April, long before many had heard of the Delta variant, Palm Beach County’s tax collector Anne Gannon thought coronavirus was such a problem that she issued a then-breathtaking directive to her employees: Get vaccinated or find yourself another job. Who would have thought that the head of a district authority, best known for issuing driving licenses, is so far ahead of its time?
Now others have to follow suit, especially in South Florida.
A Morning Consult / POLITICO poll published last week showed that a majority nationwide support mandatory vaccines and the wearing of masks indoors. Employers across the country are picking up the trend.
But in South Florida? Not as much. While business leaders, educators, health and government officials urge people here to get vaccinated against COVID-19, few ask their employees to do so.
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With the recent surge in the virus and the proven effectiveness of the vaccines available, the time is over for simply trying to convince reluctant employees. Encouragement has its place, but we would be much more encouraged if employers whose employees deal with the public went further and demanded vaccinations.
You’d think it would be a breeze to require staff, especially those who care for the sick, to get an injection that will contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep people away from the hospital or funeral home. Unfortunately, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties haven’t given vaccination regulations seriously. None of the other major cities in the region, with the exception of Delray Beach.
It’s similar in healthcare. According to data from the American Hospital Association, only 1,500 American hospitals – one in four – require a COVID vaccine from their staff. In Palm Beach County, only the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach requires workers to be vaccinated. Educating reluctant workers about the vaccine appears to be the preferred alternative to mandate.
“If some of our employees have concerns, we won’t get there,” Jude Derisme, vice president of Local 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told the Post. “There is a lot more educational work to be done before we talk about mandates.”
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Falsehoods and misinformation and fierce opposition from conservative Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are fueling anti-Vax sentiment. Around the time Gannon was issuing her instruction, DeSantis signed an executive order prohibiting companies from requiring customers to provide documents certifying COVID-19 vaccinations in order to gain access or service, an attempt by the governor to Discourage cruise ships from introducing “vaccine passports”.
Florida lawmakers followed suit with law applying the order to all businesses, adding a fine of $ 5,000 per violation. Several cruise companies sued and last week a federal judge ruled the governor challenged the law.
Compulsory vaccinations are not a new phenomenon. Parents must vaccinate their children before admitting them to school, kindergarten, licensed childcare or daycare. People traveling abroad also get vaccinations to protect their health and meet the requirements of the host country.
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No company or government can force employees to get vaccinated, but they can legally prevent people from entering a building, using services, and keeping a job if they are not vaccinated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cities and states can require vaccination regulations in certain situations, and the U.S. Equal Opportunities Commission says employers can prescribe COVID-19 vaccines or require proof of vaccination if their policies comply with state civil rights laws and disability rights and providing shelter for medical or religious exceptions.
The U.S. records an average of more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases every day – the highest level in almost six months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Last Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Florida had recorded 15,322 new cases of COVID-19, 16.5 percent of the new cases in the country.
Fortunately, companies like Google, Walmart, and United Airlines, the state governments of California, Washington, and Virginia, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Defense have mandated vaccination for some, if not all, of their employees.
When Gannon announced her request, only eight of her 325 opposition workers resigned. Morale did not collapse and no one sued.
The world didn’t end in the Palm Beach County Tax Collector’s office, and neither will it if other employers in the private and public sectors take this necessary step to fight the pandemic.
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