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Yes, employers can mandate vaccines. Will they?

Vaccine test
Posted at 5:16 PM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 17:16:57-05

(WXYZ) — As the world's first COVID-19 vaccine nears approval in the United States, metro Detroit hospitals are gearing up for their first shipments.

“We are prepared to start storing and dispensing these vaccines as soon as we get them,” said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Chief Medical Executive at Henry Ford Health System.

The vaccine will first be made available to healthcare workers, and Henry Ford says, for now, its employees will not be required to get it.

“It is going to be hard to mandate anything until we have enough doses for everybody to get those vaccines," Dr. Munkarah said. "So we do not anticipate that initially there will be any mandate to get those vaccines.”

According to experts, employers can require vaccines. Some businesses, especially those in health care, have required them in the past.

“It would be possible," said Robert Fetter, an employment attorney, and partner at Miller Cohen PLC. "Under the current law employers can mandate a vaccine.”

Some businesses, especially those in health care, have required them in the past. Fetter says there can be exceptions for things like religious objections or a disability.

"These vaccine mandates have been challenged in the past and the only success that there's been has been on individual basis when it comes across someone's civil right like a religious discrimination or reasonable accommodation under the ADA,” Fetter said.

Even so, it’s unclear how many companies would attempt a vaccine mandate, especially if workers object.

"I don't know how many employers are going to mandate the vaccine because I think they will receive push back from their workers,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a Law Professor at the University of Michigan. "This is often something that is part of union negotiations."

The UAW says right now those discussions are ongoing between employers and its COVID task force. Both Ford and GM have said a vaccine would be voluntary.

Fiat Chrysler says it has assembled a team that is “studying the most effective approach to distributing vaccines to employees promptly when they become available.”

“I could see a lot of employers strongly recommending it, but I don't know if many would mandate it,” Fetter said.

Even without a requirement, healthcare officials hope people will want to take the vaccine as it rolls out to the public.

“We want to make sure that people feel comfortable with that vaccine, that the data is out there," said Dr. Munkarah, who also said he would take the vaccine after it receives FDA approval. "I think the staggering we are getting with the vaccine dose will allow us to do that.”

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