As health care workers, many of us are already familiar with vaccine requirements by our employers.
We work in a profession that has a higher risk of encountering vaccine-preventable illnesses, and employers don’t want their employees to risk getting one of those diseases and missing time off or spreading it to other patients.
However, there’s a noticeable distrust among many health care workers regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s been repeatedly praised as the fastest ever to be developed and approved, and some worry that vaccine development cut corners due to money or political motivation.
For those who are wary about getting the new vaccine, you might be wondering whether or not you’ll be required to get it.
Although facility and government policies will likely change as time goes on, here’s what we know so far about whether or not you’ll be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Policies Will Likely Mirror Flu Shot Mandates
With the COVID-19 vaccines so relatively new, your facility or state may not yet have laws and mandates in place that require health care workers to get the COVID-19.
But as time goes on and doses become more regularly available, we expect to see facilities, states, and federal organizations begin to require vaccination documentation for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Those policies will likely mirror current flu shot mandates. So if you’re already familiar with the flu shot requirements for your employer, then you’ll likely be correct in applying those same requirements for the COVID-19 vaccines either now or down the road when doses become more readily available.
Employers Can Legally Require Vaccinations
All states except Montana are at-will employment states. That means employers can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, as long as that reason isn’t illegal, such as firing someone covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Employers are within their rights to require their employees to get a vaccination. If COVID-19 vaccination laws for health care workers follow the same state laws for the flu shot, then 18 states may require that all health care workers within the state get the vaccine or at the least document if the employee declines.
Those 18 states are California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.
It May Become a Federal Requirement
If you work at a facility that receives funding from Medicare or Medicaid, it’s highly likely that a COVID-19 vaccine requirement will come through eventually.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made COVID-19 testing for the staff of nursing homes a regulatory requirement back in August 2020, so it’s very likely it’ll do the same with the vaccine.
You May Be Able to Decline or Be Allowed an Exemption
Just like with the flu shot, you may be able to decline to get the shot and opt to take other precautions, like wearing personal protective equipment or working specific assignments to minimize the risk of you catching or spreading the disease. In some states, facilities are only required to document your vaccination status.
For those with medical contraindications or religious conflicts, there are potential exemptions to vaccination requirements, and those are unlikely to change for the COVID-19 vaccine.
In Conclusion, the Answer is Probably Yes — Eventually
COVID-19 is a very serious and highly contagious illness that has wreaked havoc through our communities and health care systems. But it’s still a relatively new disease, and the vaccines are just barely beginning to make it to the arms of the public.
Health care workers will likely see vaccination requirements start to fall into place soon as manufacturing starts to catch up with demand and facilities and states aren’t as focused on distributing the previous few allotments of vaccines.
However, those requirements will vary from facility to facility and state to state. You’ll also likely have the opportunity to decline or apply for medical or religious exemptions if any apply to you, just like with the flu shot.
Here at Clipboard Health, we’re concerned about your safety and the safety of your colleagues and your patients. We are working on developing our own COVID-19 vaccine policy and will share it with you as soon as more information becomes available.