By Rep. Paul Anderson
Last week’s speech by President Joe Biden dealing with vaccine mandates for upwards of 80 million Americans has further divided our country, which is the last thing we need. Forcing companies with over 100 workers to use vaccination as a condition of employment is a major step, one that many view as unconstitutional. Vaccination should be a personal choice, with decisions made in the context of what’s best for me and my family.
Full disclosure here: I’ve been vaccinated. Because of a respiratory condition I have, it was an easy choice for me. I had two doses of the Moderna vaccine back in late winter/early spring with no complications except for feeling a bit lethargic the day after the second shot.
I think we are being given mixed signals about how serious this second round of COVID-19 actually is. College and professional football teams are starting their seasons playing to capacity crowds of 60-70,000 fans, many of whom are not wearing masks. Major concerts are being held once again, and we just concluded our Minnesota State Fair, and while attendance was down, it was still over one million.
Early on, we were told that once we reached the 70-percent level of vaccination, we would be OK because of “herd immunity.” We are now there, both at the state and national levels, but there is little talk of that anymore. Having said that, I realize this is a difficult situation, one where we’re still learning how to combat this virus.
This latest push to mandate vaccination is a heavy lift. It will affect 80 million workers, in addition to another 17 million working in health care facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid dollars. On top of that, add another one million who do contract work with the federal government.
Only one state so far, Montana, has a law making it illegal for private employers to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment. Precedent, however, says that federal rules overstep state law. How state and federal rules interact with each other will be a major issue as this moves forward.
Just how is this going to play out? The Biden administration is putting enforcement of the vaccine mandate in the hands of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They are drafting the rule which will probably not be finished for several weeks. One thing said so far by the agency is that fines could be “quite significant” for refusing to follow the rule.
Even after the rule has been formulated, in all likelihood, it will be challenged in court. South Dakota, for example, is preparing a lawsuit against the proposed mandate. These challenges will probably wind up at the Supreme Court so it could be weeks or even months before this issue is settled.
One key element to any rule developed involves exemptions for those who have religious or medical issues with vaccinations. Another is how to handle those who work exclusively from home. Are they mandated to get the shot, even if they never go into the office? What about those who have already had Covid-19 and have antibodies in their system? Then there’s the issue of workers at large companies leaving and going to work at a competing company that doesn’t hit the 100-employee threshold. And what about a company with just over the threshold number letting workers go in an effort to get below the 100 mark?
Another major concern is the health care industry. Already critically short of workers, what will happen if any number of nurses or other staff leave because of a mandate? We have great health care in this country, but it’s the people doing the work, many times in difficult and overworked situations, that give us that care. We can’t afford to lose any of them!