Millions of Americans have voted against a coronavirus vaccine. But with the shots readily available and with the virus cases resurfacing in parts of the country, a growing number of employers, universities and companies are now issuing some form of vaccine requests.
Under many of these orders, those who remain unvaccinated, including those unable to get a vaccine due to a disability or conflicting religious beliefs, must instead follow strict guidelines such as regular Covid tests, masking, and social distancing.
“I think what these companies think – for these people – is probably a reasonable precaution when they are masked or constantly tested,” said Joel Friedman, law professor at Tulane University. “And that’s probably right.”
Another part of the changing landscape in vaccines is awaiting full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines are currently being given under an emergency license, so full approval could allay safety concerns – and encourage even more organizations to make them a requirement.
Here’s a look at who might ask you to get the vaccine:
Can your employer ask for the vaccination?
The short answer is yes, although the vast majority have not.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, every company has legal rights to require its employees to be vaccinated, regardless of conflicting disabilities or religious beliefs.
Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, is demanding that a good portion of its workers – an estimated 1.6 million, including those at its headquarters – receive a vaccine.
The Walt Disney Company, Google, Facebook, Tyson Foods, and Uber are some of the other big companies that need to have at least some of their employees vaccinated.
State governments and the Biden government have also issued vaccine mandates as employers, but not in ways that affect the general public.
According to new guidelines announced by President Biden in late July, up to seven million federal employees are now required to provide proof of vaccination. If not, they must adhere to strict rules of mask usage, weekly testing, and social distancing. The military said it would follow suit with its staff.
States like North Carolina, New York, and California also require their government employees to do the same. Mandatory vaccination orders are also emerging for workers in government hospital systems across the country. This includes most of the hospitals in Massachusetts, some in South Carolina, and others in North Carolina.
And those requirements aren’t a HIPAA violation either – while the law protects a patient’s confidential health information, including what the healthcare provider can share, it doesn’t cover what employers can ask for.
What about your college or university?
Yes. And they may have already done so by the time you attend any of the 500+ colleges and universities – including the university system in states like California, Illinois, Colorado, and New York – that make the vaccine a requirement for enrollment when students want to take courses in the upcoming Semester personally
While some universities require students to provide proof of vaccination, others encourage students with exceptions to the mask requirement.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy. A federal judge upheld Indiana University’s vaccination requirement last month after a group of students filed a lawsuit. The mandate is also a challenge for international students who may not have access to any of the eight WHO-approved vaccines.
Aug 3, 2021, 9:15 a.m. ET
What about kids in K-12 schools?
That can depend on whether the child is attending a public or private school. While children ages 12-17 are eligible for the vaccine, and younger children are likely to be eligible this fall, it’s not a requirement for attending a K-12 public school across the country.
Private schools as well as daycare centers and camps can decide whether or not their students require a vaccination.
Most children are already routinely vaccinated against other diseases such as tetanus, polio, and chickenpox in order to meet schooling requirements. A future requirement for a Covid vaccine at state level is therefore possible.
Could your local or state government require you to get the vaccine? What about the federal government?
Local and state governments can enforce vaccination based on a precedent created by the 1905 Jacobson v Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that states can require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox.
New York City will begin requiring proof of vaccination this month for eating out at restaurants, entering fitness centers, and participating in other indoor activities.
At the same time, some states like Florida are using their powers to enforce the opposite and have banned government agencies and corporations from asking for proof of vaccination.
And as far as the federal government is concerned, that’s a no. CDC director Rochelle Walensky confirmed in July that there would be no nationwide mandate.
Understand the state of vaccine mandates in the United States
What if you want to travel internationally?
It depends on whether. While certain countries remain closed to Americans, those who welcome travelers will need either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. As long as you can afford the latter, vaccination is usually not required.
What about other companies that you’re just a customer of?
It depends on where you live.
A handful of restaurants in major cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles now require their customers to provide proof of vaccination. Some Kansas City restaurants and bars do the same. Only in some of these places can customers present a current negative Covid test instead.
Similar guidelines appear in gyms. Equinox and SoulCycle will be providing evidence of vaccination from their customers and employees in New York City next month before extending the same requirements to other locations.
How do the religious exceptions work?
While employers are legally required to take due account of an employee’s religious beliefs, and universities can allow religious and even philosophical exceptions to the vaccines, restaurants and other businesses don’t have the same duty to their clients, Professor at the University of Texas, according to Elizabeth Sepper in Austin.
What exactly constitutes a religious belief is open to interpretation, from the teachings of the major organized religions to less traditional religious beliefs.
One religious argument people have made against vaccines, according to Ms. Sepper, is that they are undermining their belief in God’s ability to protect their bodies from harm. Others oppose vaccines developed or tested with cells obtained from fetal tissue from elective abortions performed decades ago.
But employers are also protected from stress – they just have to offer the employee a realistic alternative, usually in the form of frequent tests, mask requirements or social distancing.
“The obligation to the employer must be appropriate,” said Ms. Sepper. “Don’t roll backwards and let an employee do what he wants.”
And the number of people who could successfully apply for religious immunization exemption is likely to be small.
“If we saw religious exceptions in large numbers, I would doubt their sincerity,” said Ms. Sepper. “Because there is no major religion that rejects vaccinations.”
Will more organizations need a vaccine in the future?
It is possible. Mr Friedman, who believes that more and more companies will need vaccinations in the future, claims that there is already a legal precedent for mandating vaccines, it is only up to these companies to choose to act accordingly.
“It’s not a legal decision,” he said. “It is a political and economic judgment that these companies make.”