by Karen Mulligan and Jeffrey E. Harris, University of Southern California, Schaeffer Center for Health Economics & Policy, White Paper Released July 7, 2021
- Vaccine mandates for employees are emerging as the most feasible and effective policy to reduce the risk of disastrous COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace.
- Higher education and healthcare are leading the way in vaccine mandates, while other sectors are beginning to follow their lead.
- State laws barring vaccine mandates will become increasingly unenforceable as they come into conflict with private employer initiatives to protect workers and consumers.
- Concerns that verification of vaccination status is unworkable or that the Food and Drug Administration has approved COVID-19 vaccines only on an emergency basis will prove to be overblown.
- While a clearly articulated, unified federal policy on vaccine mandates remains lacking, independent agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control have already begun to step into the void.
In the absence of clearly articulated federal and state policies, private employers have had to adopt their own vaccination policies to reduce the risk of a disastrous COVID-19 outbreak among returning workers. Higher education and healthcare have led the way in establishing vaccination mandates for students and employees, and there are strong indications that other sectors will follow suit. This trend is reinforced by the emergence of markets for vaccination-only services, as well as market-based approaches to vaccination verification. While workplace vaccine mandates have already proved feasible and effective, the alternative of mixing unmasked vaccinated with masked unvaccinated workers remains untested. State laws that prohibit vaccination mandates will prove unenforceable as they increasingly conflict with the policies of large private employers. Vaccine mandates are not only inevitable, but they are sound public policy. The federal government can play an important role in endorsing workplace mandates while protecting the most vulnerable and reducing disparities in disease burden.