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Can your employer make you get the COVID-19 vaccine? It's not that simple.

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 17:14:14-05

INDIANAPOLIS — As we await Pfizer and Moderna’s FDA approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, many people are wondering if they’ll be required to get one.

“As soon as we can get it in our hands, we will be ready to give it,” Dr. Chris Weaver, IU Health senior vice president of clinical effectiveness, said.

The ultra-cold freezers have been purchased and they’re ready to go at IU Health, as they await the arrival of their first shipments of the vaccine expected around Dec. 15, should Pfizer receive FDA approval.

“Really, the highest priority out of the gates are the staff and team members at the long-term care facilities to make sure that they get shots,” Weaver said. “Then, all frontline healthcare workers that work in places in our systems where you see undifferentiated patients so the emergency departments who see large volumes of patients.”

Plus, those working in their designated COVID units, Weaver said. But Dr. Weaver says they won’t mandate their employees to get the vaccine.

“We’re going to highly encourage it. We won’t require it just because it’s new,” he said. “So even though it’s going to have a ton of data through the tens of thousands of patients from the studies, just because it’s new, we’re not going to require it to individuals.”

“Indiana being an at-will state, a private employer, they can mandate it, but they do so with a couple of restraints and potential exposure for lawsuits,” Aaron Williamson, of Williamson Civil Law, said.

Williamson represents employees in these kinds of litigation. He said the industry standard is to educate but not require vaccines. But companies can still mandate it if they want.

“I won’t say it would be difficult, I would say it would be risky. And why take on the risk?” he said.

The risk being, employees can sue and opt-out for several reasons.

“If the employee is asking for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or if you’re making a religious accommodation request,” Williamson said. “If there’s a medical concern that they don’t feel safe with it, those are accommodations on an individual level that they would want to evaluate and make sure that they have a policy in place at the outset to address those things.”

The CDC estimates that when companies have a mandatory vaccination policy, 85% of employees participate. But without one, participation tends to fall to 43%.

“So there is some reason for an employer to want to impose it, especially if there is concern about their busy season being during the flu season and then wanting to maintain a solid employee base,” Williamson said.