Nov 4, 2021 - Health

Vaccine deadlines hit with a whimper

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Mandatory vaccine deadlines have now come and gone for millions of workers — and most of them have either bit the bullet or taken advantage of wiggle room offered by their employers.

Why it matters: These mandates have become one of the most polarizing policies in America, but predictions that they'd drive workers away in droves, voluntarily or not, simply aren't coming to fruition.

Where it stands: There's a patchwork of deadlines set by the federal government, states, cities, schools and private companies. Last Monday was a big deadline, and more are coming up.

Many large employers that imposed their own vaccine requirements — from Disney, Citigroup and AT&T to big airlines, hospitals and cities — say compliance has been high, and there's little risk that they'll end up losing any significant share of their workforce.

  • United Air Lines — the first American air carrier to mandate vaccines — says nearly all its workers are vaccinated, but "is facing a federal lawsuit brought by six of its employees who have applied for a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine mandate," per CNN.

Yes, but: There are pockets of staunch resistance: In New York, more than 10,000 workers defied last Monday's deadline to get vaccinated; and in Los Angeles, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva vowed not to enforce a countywide mandate.

Between the lines: Vaccine mandates are common but not universal, and many of them have significant exceptions or lax enforcement. Workers may not be leaving or losing their jobs — but that doesn't mean they're all actually getting vaccinated.

  • Hospitals across the country reported that only handfuls of workers — often about 1% to 2% of their workforces — chose to leave due to mandates, Axios health care editor Tina Reed reports.
  • But many of them also reported higher-than-usual rates of medical or religious exemption, often around 4% to 6%.

Despite all the focus this year on vaccinating teachers, less than half of big school districts imposed any sort of vaccination mandate on their workers. Just 15 districts enacted universal mandates for employees, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a nonpartisan research center.

  • "Districts are saying that employees could be disciplined up to termination, but only a handful are really taking those first steps of termination or placing employees on unpaid leave," Bree Dusseault, principal researcher at the center, tells Axios.
  • "So teachers who don't get vaccinated are given some options to still stay in their jobs, at least for the short term."

What we're watching: New polling from Qualtrics, a survey software company, found that less than half of U.S. workers (49%) believe their employers or the government will be able to enforce federal vaccine mandates effectively.

What's next: There's a Dec. 8 deadline for federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with the Biden administration's vaccine mandate Additional deadlines for federal workers and school employees to be vaccinated are scattered through November and December.

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