Bad news for anti-vaxxers: Now that the FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, at least one corporation and the federal government are signaling they will no longer allow employees to opt-out of being vaccinated against the virus.
President Biden is expected to announce new vaccine requirements for federal workers during a planned speech on Covid-19 Thursday, The New York Times and CNN reported. A source familiar with Biden’s plans told CNN that the president will sign an executive order mandating vaccines for federal employees and contractors be vaccinated. That means workers will no longer have the option of getting regularly tested for Covid-19 instead of getting vaccinated, and contractors will have to require vaccinations for their employees if they want continued access to public funds.
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United Airlines made a similar announcement Wednesday, saying employees who are granted a medical or religious exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine will soon be placed on temporary leave. “Given the dire statistics … we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated co-workers,” the memo sent by United’s Vice President of Human Resources Kirk Limacher read.
Beginning October 2nd, United employees who have been granted an exemption on religious grounds will go on voluntary unpaid leave, and employees with medical exemptions will go on temporary medical leave. Unvaccinated employees who are denied exemptions must receive their first Covid-19 vaccine dose by September 27th and finish their vaccination within five weeks or face termination.
How long an employee will be on leave depends on their role, the airline said. Employees placed on leave who interact frequently with customers — such as pilots, flight attendants, and gate agents — will return to work “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes,” the memo said. Employees who do not directly interact with customers will return to work once “new testing and safety procedures are in place.”
United’s announcement puts it on a growing list of companies — including Bank of America, Facebook and Deloitte — who’ve either mandated vaccines or instituted consequences for employees who insist on coming to work without getting a shot that protects themselves and their coworkers against Covid. These decisions aren’t coming from some newfound corporate altruism or deep concern over worker well-being. Instead, companies are doing the one thing they can be reliably counted on to do: protecting their own business model. And in this case, that means requiring workers to take precautions against a disease that’s both communicable and deadly.
None of this is going over well with the anti-vaxx crowd, who’ve fought vaccine mandates aimed at stemming the spread of Covid (current U.S. death toll: 650,000+). But the choice not to get vaccinated has consequences for others, including by increasing the prevalence of Covid and the health risks for those from whom a life-saving vaccine isn’t an option. By making the Covid vaccine a condition of employment, Biden and United are signaling they’re done with a system in which the only people shielded from the consequences of anti-vax hysteria are the anti-vaxxers themselves.
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