No easy answers with vaccines

Should they be mandated for workers? What if someone refuses?

No easy answers with vaccines

My parents were given the Moderna vaccine this morning. After they told me they’d made an appointment for this week, I was definitely relieved. While they both still live at home and have been easily able to isolate, they’re also in their mid-80s so the risks of the COVID-19 virus are obviously high.

The Moderna vaccine has been shown to have an efficacy of about 92 per cent in protecting against COVID-19, starting 14 days after the first dose, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s a promising stat – especially considering the second dose for my parents isn’t planned until July.

Of course, the growing distributions of the various vaccines raises questions around the workplace, which many employers are struggling with: Should we require employees to have the vaccine before they come to work? Can an employer even mandate that staff take the COVID-19 vaccine?

How do we handle people who refuse the request? How do we handle workers who don’t have the vaccine comingling with those who do?

These are not easily answered. For one, there’s a healthy dose of science involved. The data around dosages and effectiveness, based on age and ethnicity and health, are not easily validated or understood. Plus, the newer variants of the virus are proving an ongoing challenge.

So, how foolproof are the vaccines when it comes to the workplace? Will we need them every year like flu shots?

And then there’s the employment law side, with the likelihood that requests will be made around accommodation, whether for physical health reasons or even religious ones. What if an employee is an anti-vaxxer and ardently opposed to such a requirement? We’ve seen similar situations arise when health-care practitioners have fought their employer’s obligation to have flu shots.

Or will it be enough if 60 or 70 per cent of your employee population is vaccinated? Will that make the workplace safe enough? When will vaccines be so widespread that we can abandon all the COVID-related safety measures? Will we face liability if a staff member contracts COVID at work?

Hopefully, fingers crossed, knock on wood… this dilemma won’t last too long. Hopefully enough of the overall population will be vaccinated, and the virus will die down, so we can get back to some sense of normalcy. But for the immediate future, there are some challenging and, yes, unprecedented questions for HR ─ with no easy answers.

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