Sep 29, 2021 - Podcasts

What's ahead for unvaccinated workers

175 healthcare workers at a North Carolina hospital system were fired yesterday because they wouldn’t get the COVID vaccine. It’s one of the country's biggest mass firings because of vaccine mandates to date. But, this is not just an issue playing out in health care. More and more companies are adding vaccine requirements to their job postings — across industries.

  • Plus, restaurant staff speak out about abuse they're facing.
  • And, the billions invested into anti-aging research.

Guests: Axios' Erica Pandey and Bryan Walsh; Axios Today listeners

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday September 29th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: restaurant staff speak out about abuse they’re facing. Plus, the billions invested into anti-aging research.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: what’s ahead for U.S. workers who won’t get vaccinated.

Yesterday, 175 healthcare workers at a North Carolina hospital system were fired because they wouldn't get the Covid vaccine. It's one of the biggest mass firings to date in the U.S. because of vaccine mandates.

But this issue isn't just playing out in healthcare. More and more companies are adding vaccine requirements to their job postings across industries and Axios business reporter Erica Pandey has been reporting on how corporate America is joining the vaccine fight. Good morning, Erica.

ERICA PANDEY: Morning, Niala.

NIALA: So Erica, when we say that companies are adding vaccine requirements to their job postings, how many postings and how many jobs are we talking about?

ERICA: So it's still a pretty small share, right? It's around 4,000 of every million job posts on the site Indeed, which is, you know, a huge, huge job site, but it's the rise that's really significant. The share of job postings per million that require vaccination and say the unvaccinated need not apply has spiked 242% in just the last month.

NIALA: And this coincides with the Biden administration announcing they were mandating companies with a hundred or more employees to require vaccination or get tested. Is that what's related to this?

ERICA: Right, I mean, you saw a lot of big companies already start to do this before the government did anything, right. We had Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney, Morgan Stanley, the Washington Post a bunch of companies that said all of their employees have to get vaccinated, but now the government has stepped in and it's not happened yet, but the Biden administration has directed OSHA to develop a temporary rule that'll require companies, like you said, with a hundred or more employees to either require vaccination or do weekly testing.

That's a rule that would affect 80 million U.S. workers. So now we're seeing a bunch of companies who are maybe worried about the legality or didn't want to turn people away at a time when they're just looking to fill roles, that puts them over the edge and had them require a vaccines too because now it feels like the government is on their side.

NIALA: Erica, I introduced this conversation by talking about the situation in North Carolina. What do people need to know about what happened at that hospital system?

ERICA: So two things that are super important to note, right - 175 people were fired, but that hospital system has 35,000 employees total. So it is still a very small percentage of healthcare workers in that system that were choosing not to get vaccinated.

But what's also interesting is that last week, 375 of those workers were not vaccinated and then after the mandate went into effect 200 chose to get vaccinated while another 175 got fired. And I think that really shows what role corporate America has to play here in this whole vaccine debate. A lot of people who might not be convinced by other things, once you tie it to their workplace, their livelihood, they'll go ahead and get the shot.

NIALA: Erica, you've also mentioned how many later labor shortages we're facing across industries. How could vaccine mandates affect that?

ERICA: Companies are super worried about this, Niala. We're in the middle of this thing that economists are calling the great resignation upwards of 40% of employees say they want to change their jobs, quit their jobs and this could add to it.

NIALA: Erica, that didn't happen in the case of North Carolina with this hospital.

ERICA: Right, I mean the healthcare worker example is very different because there's no testing option. Their healthcare workers have to get vaccinated, but if you're working in a different industry, there might be a company that's going with the weekly testing option instead of the vaccine mandate option. So there are options there and in those sectors beyond healthcare, we could see a lot of that turnover.

NIALA: Erica Pandey is one of the authors of the What's Next newsletter. Thanks, Erica.

ERICA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with how restaurants and bars have become even tougher places to work.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. We just talked about vaccine choices facing workers -- including those in the healthcare industry -- as more and more companies adopt mandates.

But there are also the mandates cities and states have imposed around wearing masks and proving vaccination status, including in restaurants and bars. Enforcing those has fallen largely upon hospitality workers, many of whom have been speaking out about increasingly tough working conditions in this phase of the pandemic. We asked some Axios Today listeners who are also hospitality workers to share their stories -- here are just a few.

Thanks for sharing your stories -- you can always tell me about your experiences by texting me at (202) 918-4893.

A growing number of companies are investing billions in anti-aging research, aimed at extending our lifespans, but we're not to the point of replacing biological programming of ourselves just yet. Bryan Walsh has been reporting this out. Good morning, Bryan.

BRYAN WALSH: Good morning.

NIALA: Okay, so what are we talking about when we're talking about people who are researching technology to prevent aging?

BRYAN: The really legitimate research that’s being done in this space is trying to figure out, okay, what are the biological processes that actually happen to the body as you age, your muscles wear and tear over time, your cells degenerate, things like that. And actually say, are there treatments that could actually attack those hallmarks of aging, they call it, and give you more healthy lifetime. So you might not actually live that much longer, but you will be healthier for a longer period of time which would be actually a really amazing thing if we can pull that off.

NIALA: How hard is it to do this?

BRYAN: Well, it's very hard. I mean, no one's actually developed yet a drug that is meant to specifically attack aging, at least a new drug and put it into clinical trials yet. And that's because one thing it's really hard to do a clinical trial about aging because it takes people a long time, thankfully to age and to die. So to figure out do they live less long than someone with a treatment? That would take a long time which again is why it's helpful if you can actually look instead for, oh, we're actually seeing a difference in these hallmarks that result in aging such that, okay, your chronological age keeps going up, but maybe your biological age, how old your body really is at its core is as slowing down and that means again, you can live longer, healthier.

NIALA: Bryan, a lot of this just seems kind of like out there and in the realm of a movie rather than reality, are there people who are doing things that just seem completely out there and how realistic is it that they could achieve something like that?

BRYAN: There are definitely people out there who are doing things that seem kind of unrealistic. I mean, they think about can we upload the brain to some kind of computer cloud and merge with AI and live forever? But I do think that there's a discovery that aging is something that isn't necessarily inevitable. It can be controlled to a certain extent. The real key here is can we develop therapeutics that will make that something that can be spread among lots of people, not just those who have the money and willpower to actually live those healthier lives. I do think we’ll have something. I do think there'll be some kind of pill that can attack aging. It won't give us immortality, but it will give us more, longer, healthier time on this planet with each other and that's a good thing.

NIALA: Axios’ future correspondent, Bryan Walsh. Thanks, Bryan.

BRYAN: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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