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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For the first time, a COVID-19 vaccine has received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This past week, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s application for approval was approved, moving beyond the emergency use authorization granted late last year. Approval of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines hopefully is forthcoming.
“The vaccine is the best defense against the virus, and it’s been proven highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, even against variants. Vaccine is widely available in the state, and I encourage all eligible Iowans to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a news release.
News of FDA approval probably will not persuade many holdouts to roll up their sleeves, but it could buttress the case for vaccine mandates. Given the leveling off of vaccine uptake in Iowa, we think it’s time for employers in some sectors to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
An overarching mandate by the government forcing all Americans to get vaccinated would be unenforceable and legally tenuous. Employers, though, are well within their rights to make vaccination a condition of employment.
The United States has administered more than 360 million doses of the three authorized vaccines, about 10 percent or 3.3 million of which were administered in Iowa. The technology behind the vaccines has been under study for decades and is widely accepted by scientists. The point is, if there was going to be a big red flag about vaccine safety, it would have come by now.
There are risks associated with all medicines, but every indication is that these vaccines are very safe. Even for young, healthy people who are likely to easily survive an infection, the risk of inadvertently spreading the virus to others ought to outweigh the minuscule risk of a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine.
Despite all this, the number of Iowans seeking vaccinations has slowed considerably since the first few months they were available. Since reaching the benchmark of 50 percent fully vaccinated in early June, the portion of vaccinated Iowans has only grown by about 6 percentage points.
Some portion of people will refuse COVID-19 vaccines no matter what information or incentives are put in front of them. It’s incumbent upon employers to make sure their operations are not making people sick.
Already in Iowa, some hospitals and clinic networks have issued vaccine requirements for employees. Nursing homes, which are regulated and partially funded by the federal government, are subject to new Biden administration rules requiring vaccinations for staff. We hope more workplaces will join their ranks.
A few vaccine mandates that might make the most sense are among health care workers; food service workers; anyone who works with children under 12, elders or other at-risk populations; and government employees with public-facing or mobile jobs, including police officers, desk clerks and inspectors.
It’s especially important for governments to ensure their workforces are not spreading COVID-19. Iowans have a choice of which restaurants to eat at, but little choice about which government agents they’re forced to interact with.
This year in the Legislature, Republicans passed and Reynolds signed a law prohibiting the mandatory disclosure of COVID-19 vaccination status, also known as “vaccine passports.” The law specifically forbids requiring customers, clients and patients to show proof of vaccination, but doesn’t mention employees.
In June, weeks after Reynolds signed the law, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry published a blog post confirming “employers can mandate that all employees who physically enter the workplace be vaccinated” as long as they provide exceptions for disability or sincerely held religious beliefs. It was based on guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Iowans have the right to not get vaccinated but they don’t have a right to a job with an employer who doesn’t want to employ them.
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