Thousands of unvaccinated workers in the United States face potential job losses as a growing number of states, cities and private companies begin to enforce vaccination mandates against COVID-19.
In the latest high-profile example, Washington State University (WSU) fired its head soccer coach and four of his assistants on Oct. 18 for failing to meet the state’s immunization requirement, Reuters reported. The coach, Nick Rolovich, had requested a religious exemption from the mandate earlier this month.
Thousands of police and firefighters in cities like Chicago and Baltimore are also at risk of losing their jobs in the coming days under mandates that require them to report their vaccination status or undergo regular coronavirus tests.
Although controversial, the mandates have been effective in convincing many undecided workers to get vaccinated against the virus, which has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States. About 77 percent of eligible Americans have received at least one injection of a vaccine, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters last week.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been fighting with the police union, which has spoken out against the mandate for vaccinations for city workers. About a third of the city’s 12,770 police employees missed Friday’s deadline to report their immunization status, and some officers have been placed on non-pay.
“Fundamentally, what this all is about is about saving lives. It’s about maximizing the opportunity to create a safe workplace,” Lightfoot said on Monday, accusing the union of trying to “induce an insurrection” by opposing the mandate.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police union president John Catanzara did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House, which announced sweeping vaccine requirements in a bid to reduce a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths caused by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, has been a major catalyst behind the inoculation push.
On October 15, some 200 Boeing Co. employees and others staged a protest over the planemaker’s requirement that 125,000 workers be vaccinated by December 8, under an executive order issued by President Joe Biden for federal contractors.
The rules for another order applying to private businesses with 100 or more employees are expected to be finalized soon.
Along with the mandate for federal workers and contractors, Biden’s vaccine requirements will cover roughly 100 million people, about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.
The White House has been meeting with executives of several major companies to discuss Biden’s private-sector vaccination plan.
On October 17, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was worried about a possible shortage of Transportation Security Administration agents gumming up air travel during the year-end holiday season. With 40 percent of the agency’s staff not yet vaccinated and Thanksgiving just over a month away, Schumer suggested security dogs could be added to help cover any shortfall.
Vaccine mandates help motivate people
A wave of layoffs has already swept through the healthcare industry, which moved more quickly than others to impose vaccine mandates given the heightened COVID-19 exposure risk for patients and staff
Nurses and other healthcare workers who chose to leave their jobs rather than be immunised recently told Reuters they could not get past their concern over a lack of long-term data on the three vaccines available in the United States.
While the vaccines received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in less than a year, medical experts have widely vouched for their safety, citing years of research, large clinical trials and real world data after hundreds of millions have been vaccinated worldwide.
Like WSU’s Rolovich, many unvaccinated workers looking to avoid the shots have done so by seeking religious exemptions, which are being tested in several courts.
School leaders said the mandate was aimed at ensuring the safety of its faculty and staff.
“Experience is showing that vaccine mandates help motivate people to complete the vaccination process,” Marty Dickinson, WSU Board of Regents Chair, said in a statement.
The mandates are causing staffing concerns across various industries, and some companies are taking steps to reassure workers that their requests for medical or religious exemptions will be given serious consideration.
Southwest Airlines told its employees on October 15 that it would allow the unvaccinated to continue working, rather than being placed on unpaid leave, if their exemption requests have not been evaluated by the December 8 deadline.