This move comes after recent court rulings that temporarily halted the Biden administration’s requirements for federal contractors and health care workers. The individual employers still have the final say on whether vaccinations are required.
Mandates are being suspended in a precarious moment: Employers face labor shortages while Covid cases surge and the highly mutated Omicron variant is expanding.
Hospitals have struggled to keep enough staffing, as they were already struggling with a shortage of nurses before the pandemic. The shortages have been exacerbated by burnout.
This most likely influenced some health care system’s decisions to reverse vaccination mandates according to David Barron, an employment lawyer based in Houston.
Barron, who is a member of the law firm Cozen O’Connor, said that employers don’t have the luxury to lose 5 percent or 10 percent of their workforce or what ever percent doesn’t want vaccinated. It’s difficult to find work in this environment, especially for jobs such as health care and other industries that have a tight labor market.
The Cleveland Clinic has 19 hospitals and was one of the health systems to announce this month that it will suspend its vaccination policy. A spokesperson for Cleveland Clinic stated that 85 percent of employees have been vaccinated and those who haven’t are being tested regularly. Cleveland Clinic stated in a statement that they continue to encourage all employees to be vaccinated.
HCA Healthcare Inc. has 183 hospitals across 20 states. It made the same decision. However, it also encouraged vaccination among employees and called it a “critical step”.
Amtrak announced Tuesday it will suspend its employee mandate following a nationwide injunction issued by a judge last week against a federal contractor requirement. General Electric also did the same thing last week.
Amtrak will resume normal service next month instead of ceasing service as planned, Amtrak said.
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn stated that only 500 of his employees are not vaccinated.
In an employee memo, he stated that 95.7% of employees were either fully vaccinated today or have accommodation. This number rises to 97.3% if we add employees who reported receiving at least one dose of vaccine.
He said that those with accommodations and unvaccinated people will be offered testing even though the mandate isn’t in force.
“It is absurd to revert to what we know is safe, effective and safe.”
As an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Dr. Sadiya Khan criticized corporations for easing their mandates, especially with the rise in Covid cases across the country.
She said, “It is absurd to reverse the safety and effectiveness of what we know.”
Khan stated that the omicron variant brings more uncertainty, but that mandates are more important at this time of year, even if it were not.
She said that the variant is less of a concern than the shift in weather. “As we enter colder weather, more people will gather indoors. Most winters, we expect there to be a surge. The magnitude of that surge will depend on how many people have been vaccinated or boosted.
“What we may end up with is a patchwork — blue state, red state — where some states, certain cities have mandates and then other don’t.”
Many other companies that are eligible for exemptions from vaccine mandates due to court proceedings have decided to maintain their rules.
Southwest Airlines was one of them. The airline said that it is monitoring the lawsuits, but still requires that employees be fully vaccinated before Jan. 4, which is the original company deadline. The Wall Street Journal reported that defense contractor Raytheon Technologies has also maintained its policy.
Barron stated that federal vaccine mandates could be blocked in courts, but that state and local mandates such as New York City’s could succeed.
He said, “What we might end with is a patchwork — blue state, red state — where some States, some cities have mandates and then other don’t — which will be a nightmare to large, multistate corporations.”