Pfizer’s full FDA approval triggers new vaccine mandates
The full federal approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on August23 immediately, as expected, led to new vaccination mandates by government entities, a development that suggests more could be coming, according to The Hill.
Immediately after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to the vaccine, New York City announced that all public school teachers and staff will be required to get the shot. The Pentagon later confirmed that it would move forward with a vaccine mandate for military service members.
Biden administration officials believe that the private sector will follow suit.
A few dozen corporations, including Microsoft, Tyson Foods, Walt Disney and Netflix, announced vaccine requirements after the Biden administration mandated vaccinations for federal employees late last month.
More companies will implement their own vaccine requirements following the FDA decision, said Michelle Strowhiro, a lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery who advises businesses on COVID-19 employment issues.
“Many employers, even though they could’ve implemented a vaccine mandate pre-FDA approval, have been waiting for full FDA approval because they believe their employees will be more receptive to a vaccine mandate,” she said.
Employers could already legally enforce vaccine requirements, but some have privately fretted about losing employees who were not willing to get vaccinated.
FDA approval could sway some workers who have been hesitant thus far. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31 percent of unvaccinated people would be more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine upon full approval.
Chevron became the first major oil and gas company to require vaccinations for some of its employees Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company is reportedly weighing a mandate for all of its employees amid rising infections.
The FDA’s approval is accelerating vaccinations in some workplaces that have already implemented their own mandates.
Earlier this month, United Airlines announced it would require all 67,000 of its U.S. employees to get vaccinated within five weeks of FDA approval or Oct. 25, whichever comes first. A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed that all eligible workers must get vaccinated by Sept. 27 or risk getting fired.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced last week that it would mandate vaccines for all employees, including virtual workers, following FDA approval.
FDA Pfizer approval a “game changer”
“The FDA’s approval is a real game changer for the workplace,” Jason Habinsky, an employment attorney at Haynes Boone, a Dallas, Texas-based law firm, told CBS News. “Employers essentially have the blessing of the federal government that the vaccine is safe and effective and approved, and an employer is no longer making a unilateral judgment call on whether or not the vaccine is effective. So this really gets employers across the finish line in terms of being comfortable mandating it in the workplace.”
Employers’ hesitancy to implement vaccination requirements has faded over the time, particularly with the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant. Now, it’s expected to evaporate altogether, and employers that don’t require the vaccine could become outliers, according to CBS News.
“Now the walls have started to crumble,” said attorney Barbara Binzak Blumenfeld of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney, where she helps clients navigate matters involving FDA approval of medical products and practices. “I think they’ll continue to crumble with respect to companies that have been hesitant to mandate.”
AIHA backs vaccination as COVID-19 control strategy
AIHA, the association for scientists and professionals committed to preserving and ensuring occupational and environmental health and safety, has come out in support of vaccination as a key control strategy against COVID-19. AIHA voices its support for employers who find innovative ways to encourage vaccination among workers or develop workable programs to mandate vaccination in the workforce where warranted.
“The shortest path to ending the COVID-19 pandemic is through widespread, rapid vaccination,” said John Mulhausen, CIH, the president of AIHA.
AIHA has joined infection preventionists, epidemiologists, and infectious disease physicians and pharmacists in calling upon state governors across the U.S. to set aside ideological differences and support important public health guidance that will save the lives of thousands of Americans during the current stage of the pandemic.
OSHA says vaccinated workers should wear masks
OSHA issued guidance in mid-August urging employers to require many fully vaccinated workers to wear masks to protect unvaccinated colleagues and customers, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
(OSHA recommended that workers wear masks “in areas of substantial or high community transmission,” such as manufacturing plants, meat processing facilities and retail establishments, unless they have medical conditions that make it difficult to wear a face covering.
Employers should also consider staggering the times workers clock in and out of work and take breaks to prevent large groups of people from congregating, OSHA said.
A number of employers have said they will require at least a part of their U.S. workforce to be vaccinated. Walmart, Uber, McDonald’s and DoorDash have adopted mandates for corporate employees, and many airlines and technology companies are requiring employees to be vaccinated.
OSHA’s guidance, which is not legally binding, was issued after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month recommended that fully vaccinated individuals resume wearing face masks in public.
OSHA also said an emergency rule it adopted in June requiring healthcare employers to mandate use of face masks, ensure proper ventilation and limiting the number of patients and visitors is “more important than ever” and will remain in place for the time being. The agency said it would revisit the requirements next month.
Cal/OSHA urges masking at all indoor work settings regardless of vaccination status
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health encouraged employers and workers August 25th to follow the state’s public health recommendation to wear a mask when indoors regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status as daily Covid cases in the state hit a new high for the summer with 14,716 cases reported August 20th.
While the state has not issued a new indoor face covering mandate that would also apply to fully vaccinated people, the California Department of Public Health still requires face coverings in certain settings like health care facilities and on public transit.
Cal/OSHA guidelines also do not require the use of a mask indoors for fully vaccinated workers, but encouraged workers to do so in an effort to prevent the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
PRR is launching a series called “Coffee Roundtables” on Wednesday September 8th. Coffee Roundtables are an opportunity for PRR members to benchmark and have a live discussion on a hot topic EHS professionals are confronting. The first “episode” will be on COVID-19 & Returning to Work. Specifically, how members are preparing, implementing and responding to the new challenges of managing COVID-19 in the workplace, including vaccine requirements. Please contact Helen Cleary, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how you can join PRR and have access to member-only events like this one and other exclusive resources.