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Should Business Requirements of COVID-19 Vaccination Extend to Include Boosters?

  • With the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, more businesses are considering whether to mandate booster shots
  • The issue poses a tricky question, as federal COVID-19 vaccination rules currently only address the initial doses without referencing boosters
  • The definition of “fully vaccinated” could potentially be updated to include boosters at a later date

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

As court battles proceed over federal COVID-19 vaccine rules for workplaces, employers with vaccination policies on the books are facing a new question: whether the mandate should extend to booster shots as well.

Some employers are taking this step as the more contagious Omicron variant of the virus spreads, representing 73 percent of new infections last week. New Mexico became the first state to require state employees, health care workers, and educators to get a booster. California recently announced a booster requirement for its health care workers, and several universities are also mandating them for faculty, staff, and students. Even some small businesses are incorporating boosters into their COVID-19 vaccination policies; in Chicago, the popular eatery Baker Miller announced that it would require its workers and dine-in guests to get an additional shot.

The Centers for Disease Control has endorsed boosters for all adults ages 18 and up, and recommends that people get a booster six months after their second dose. However, the federal rules currently before the courts, including an Occupational Safety and Health Administration emergency temporary standard that would require employers with 100 or more employees to set up COVID-19 vaccine requirements for their workplace, only provide rules on initial vaccinations and do not establish any protocols for boosters.

The CDC’s definition currently says a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they receive their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine. However, boosters are recommended at the six-month mark since the vaccines’ protection wanes over time. The CDC could potentially update the definition of full vaccination to include boosters.

The current situation creates a tricky scenario for employers, since mandating a booster shot is a stronger step than what is currently required by the CDC. However, the CDC recommendation on boosters enables companies that require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine to require boosters as well.

Requiring a booster offers some potential benefits for businesses. The requirement can help strengthen worker protections, which in turn leads to a reduction in the employer’s health costs and staff disruptions caused by COVID-19 infections. Boosters might also be effective in states that had a high initial vaccination rate, since workers are more likely to have diminished protections and be more susceptible to breakthrough infections.

However, adding a booster requirement also risks worker pushback since the extra dose is not explicitly required under CDC definitions or the federal COVID-19 vaccination rules currently under review. A revision to a company mandate could potentially frustrate workers and create complications for employers, who would then need to keep up with any future booster requirements. Companies may also reluctant to establish booster policies if they still working to encourage workers to get their first shots.

If your business has a COVID-19 vaccination policy and you wish to update it to include a booster requirement, you should consider any exemptions and accommodations. For example, the OSHA rule requires employers to provide reasonable time off for workers to get a dose and exempts employees who are remote, don’t interact with others in their workplace, or exclusively work outdoors from the requirement. Employers should also consider what consequences they will impose if an employee does not get a booster shot.

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