Vaccine mandates have been met with resistance. Health experts say this could break it.
July 20, 2021·7 min read
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Slavitt and Sorkin discuss role businesses should play to encourage vaccinations
Former White House Senior Advisor for the Covid-19 response, Andy Slavitt, and CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin joined Stephanie Ruhle to discuss whether corporate America should require vaccinations or enforce other rules for the unvaccinated while hesitancy persists throughout the country and restrictions loosen. Sorkin says that "business is the last line of defense" and Slavitt explains why his job ended as coronavirus cases tick up and variants spread.
WASHINGTON — The United States could see a wave of Covid-19 vaccine mandates as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to one or more of the shots, public health experts predicted.
The three vaccines authorized by the FDA for emergency use against the coronavirus have proven safe and effective under that expedited review process and in the real world, and doctors and the nation's top public health officials have said there's no need for anyone to wait to get inoculated.
But as the pace of vaccinations lags and concerns about the highly-contagious delta variant grow, the official regulatory signoff would remove a significant legal and public relations barrier for businesses and government agencies that want to require vaccinations for their employees and customers, former health officials from the Biden and the Obama administrations said.
“I think once the vaccines go through full FDA approval, everything should be on the table, and I think that everything will be on the table at the level of municipalities, states, employers, venues, government agencies,” said Andy Slavitt, who stepped down as President Joe Biden’s Covid response coordinator last month and remains in close contact with administration officials.
Many institutions, including colleges and universities, have long required certain immunizations. Still, the suggestion of Covid vaccine mandates, whether by local governments for school children or by businesses for their customers, has so far been met with sharp resistance — primarily from conservative lawmakers and activists.
At least 20 state legislatures have passed bills or are considering measures that would ban businesses and state and local governments from placing restrictions on unvaccinated people. Even so, some colleges, concert venues and employers have already started requiring Covid vaccinations.
But the expedited review process for Covid vaccines has been cited as a safety concern by some people yet to get vaccinated and as a legal hurdle for organizations that have hesitated to put a mandate in place.
Institutions that have put vaccine requirements in place have already faced lawsuits, with opponents arguing that the statute creating the emergency use authorization indicates people should have the option to refuse a treatment. One such lawsuit by health care workers at Houston Methodist was thrown out last month.
But with the new delta variant spreading and hospitals once again filling up, there is a renewed sense of urgency by public health officials to find ways to reach the nearly 1 in 3 eligible Americans who have yet to get their first dose. Pfizer, maker of the first vaccine authorized for emergency use in the United States, said Friday it expects the FDA to grant full approval by January 2022 at the latest. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock has said a decision should come well before then.
Health officials said they believe vaccine requirements could be that last push for people who haven't made getting vaccinated a priority or have been indifferent about needing it.
“Shame on us if we sit here in July and don't do something to increase the vaccination rates and then we can't open schools or have a situation where, God forbid, the economy takes another hit because businesses have to shut back down,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who served as health and human services secretary under President Barack Obama.