More companies are suspending vaccination mandates, including hospitals and Amtrak
A growing number of healthcare systems and other companies, including Amtrak and General Electric, are temporarily suspending mandates requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The move follows court rulings in recent weeks that suspended the Biden administration’s demands on healthcare workers and federal contractors. However, the decision whether or not to require vaccinations rested with each employer.
The term suspensions come at a precarious time: Many employers face labor shortages, as Covid cases rise and the highly mutated variant of the omicron spreads.
It has been difficult to maintain sufficient staff in hospitals, which already faced a shortage of nurses and other workers before the pandemic. Burnout has further exacerbated the shortages.
This has likely been factored into the choices of some health systems to reverse vaccination mandates, according to David Barron, a Houston-based labor lawyer.
“Most employers don’t have the luxury of wasting 5%, 10% or any other percentage of their workforce who don’t want to be vaccinated,” said Barron, who works for the Cozen O’Connor law firm. . “In this environment, it’s very difficult, especially in jobs like health care or other industries where the job market is very tight.
The Cleveland Clinic, which has 19 hospitals, was among health systems that announced earlier this month that they would suspend their vaccination policies. About 85% of Cleveland Clinic employees have been vaccinated, a spokesperson told NBC News, and periodic testing has been put in place for those who haven’t. The Cleveland Clinic said in a statement it continues to “strongly encourage” all employees to receive the vaccine.
HCA Healthcare Inc., which has 183 hospitals in 20 states, made the same move, though it also urged employees to get vaccinated, calling it a “critical step.”
Amtrak said Tuesday it was temporarily suspending its tenure as an employee following a nationwide injunction last week against a requirement for federal contractors. General Electric did the same last week.
The reversal allows Amtrak to operate normally next month, instead of cutting service as it planned, the rail service said.
According to Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn, only 500 active employees have not been vaccinated.
“Today, 95.7% of our employees are either fully vaccinated or have housing,” he wrote in a memo. “When we include employees who reported having received at least one dose of the vaccine, that number jumps to 97.3%. “
People who are housed or not vaccinated will be offered tests until the mandate is in effect, he added.
“Going back to what we know to be safe and effective is absurd”
Dr Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, criticized companies for relaxing their vaccine mandates – especially as Covid cases increase across the country.
“Taking away what we know to be safe and effective is absurd,” she said.
Omicron is adding more unknowns to the pandemic equation, but even if there was no new variant, this time of year should make the mandates more necessary, Khan added.
“The variant is not as much of a concern as the weather change,” she said. “As we move towards colder times, that means more people congregate indoors, and most winters we expect there will be an increase. The magnitude of this increase depends entirely on the number of people vaccinated and / or boosted. ”
Meanwhile, many other companies eligible for a stay of a vaccine mandate following legal proceedings have nevertheless chosen to maintain the rule.
Among them: Southwest Airlines, which told NBC News it is monitoring lawsuits that have been filed but still demands that employees be fully immunized by January 4, the company’s original deadline. Defense contractor Raytheon Technologies is also sticking to its policy, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“What we could get is a patchwork – red state, blue state – where some states, some cities have warrants, and some don’t.”
Going forward, Barron said, federal vaccine warrants could continue to be blocked in court, but state or local warrants, such as New York, could see success.
“We could end up with a patchwork – Red State, Blue State – where some states, some cities have mandates, and some don’t – which is going to be a nightmare for large multi-state companies,” he said. he declares.