NJ Top News 12/17 – Will Your NJ Workplace Make Coronavirus Vaccine Mandatory?
There remains much uncertainty about the future of novel coronavirus vaccinations in New Jersey, and whether companies will eventually be make it mandatory for their workers.
The concern is not immediate, as supplies of vaccine remain very limited and are being rationed to healthcare workers and nursing home residents. With production of the Pfizer vaccine ramping up and the Moderna vaccine likely to win approval as early as Friday, there will come a time in the next few months where there will be enough vaccine to assure anyone who wants one, can get one.
Gov. Phil Murphy has said he has no plans to make the virus mandatory by state law or executive order. But companies will have to make a decision about whether to require the vaccinations of their workers. The pandemic has reshaped New Jersey's workforce with more people working from home. If your job does not require you to come into the office or come in direct contact with customers, it is less likely you will be required to be vaccinated.
The group of workers most likely to have a vaccination mandate are healthcare workers. Hospitals across New Jersey have begun offering the vaccinations to their frontline workers, but for now it is voluntary. There is precedent. In January, new regulations went into effect in New Jersey to require healthcare workers to have a flu shot. At the same time, a religious exemption was eliminated. While no hospitals in New Jersey have come out and said the coronavirus vaccine will be mandatory for employees yet, many in the industry expect that to be the case.
As for other businesses in New Jersey, they have the right to mandate vaccinations under current law. Few of them do, however. The COVID-19 crisis could change that. As many businesses fight for survival after nine months of tight restrictions, they may seek to assure their customer bases that it is safe to do business face-to-face. They may believe the easier way to do that is to say that all employees have been vaccinated. It's unclear if workers would be able to cite any exemptions to avoid getting the shot. Under current law, workers can cite religious exemptions or submit doctor's notes saying specific vaccines are contraindicated.
If you intend to travel, mandatory vaccinations could also be required. It's unlikely airlines will require proof of vaccination to fly, but travel industry experts suggest it will likely be mandatory to take a cruise. Most vacation resort destinations already require proof of a negative COVID-19 test and many countries in Europe and the Caribbean require the same as a condition of entry.
As for New Jersey as a whole, Murphy and state health officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of making the vaccine mandatory for the general population. Murphy has set a goal of inoculating 70% of the adult population. If recent polls bear out, nearly half of New Jersey residents may not get the vaccine when it becomes widely available. That could put pressure on both private businesses and the state to reconsider a mandate.
There has already been discussion about adding the vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccinations needed to attend public school in New Jersey. State Sen. Joe Vitale chairs the Senate Health Committee, and is on record saying he supports mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for school kids and the elimination of religious exemptions for all vaccines. However, the vaccine has not been authorized for individuals under the age of 16. Clinical studies of the vaccine's effect in children are just now getting underway.
With so many variables and no consistent policy dealing with COVID-19, lawmakers will likely be asked to consider the issue, but not for some time. The FDA has only given authorization for emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine. The same designation is likely for the Moderna candidate, and potentially for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine when it comes up for review in January or February. Permanent approval could take a year or more of data gathering, and will largely depend on side effects that emerge from the emergency use as well as ongoing clinical trials. It would be unlikely lawmakers will entertain any mandatory vaccine bills until federal drug regulators give final approval to one or more vaccine candidates.
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