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BIA Business Perspective: Vax mandate divisive but COVID-19 protection benefits all

BIA Business Perspective: Vax mandate divisive but COVID-19 protection benefits all

Medical experts say widespread vaccination, including booster shots, is the best way to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately build herd immunity and great gains have been made.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 10, 68.3% of the U.S. population age 12 and older is fully vaccinated, and 78.9% has received at least one shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting near 100% is a challenge. The Biden administration’s mandate that all employers with 100 or more employees and those with federal contracts require vaccination for employees, is one of the most divisive issues of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor is giving businesses until Jan. 4, 2022, to comply, but New Hampshire is one of 11 states suing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, arguing the mandate is unconstitutional. A federal appeals court on Nov. 6 temporarily blocked the mandate one day after it officially went in effect. The Biden administration on Nov. 8 urged businesses to move forward with compliance.

There also are more than 30 potential COVID-related bills for the New Hampshire Legislature’s 2022 legislative session. Many seek to prohibit the ability for employers or the government to mandate vaccination.

The Business & Industry Association, New Hampshire’s statewide chamber of commerce and leading business advocate, supports and encourages education and other prevention efforts, including testing and vaccination, to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, BIA maintains employers should decide workplace safety rules, not the state. BIA staunchly opposes legislative proposals that would prohibit private employers from mandating vaccination for its workers should they want. Requiring vaccination is a safety measure to protect employees and customers and others who may visit the place of business. It’s not unlike other employer requirements from hard hats to hair nets and even dress codes.

It’s worth noting that the Legislature has repeatedly denied employers safe harbor legislation championed by BIA. Safe harbor protection shields employers from certain lawsuits filed by employees or customers who test positive for COVID-19 after spending time in the business.

BIA members’ reaction to the mandate runs the full spectrum. Many manufacturing companies with federal contracts and health care companies that receive Medicaid and Medicare dollars have already moved to implement the requirement, while others awaited release of OSHA rules on enforcing the mandate. Still others oppose the mandate and are weighing the impacts of penalties for non-compliance. Companies that violate the mandate could face fines of up to $14,000.

Some employers call the 100-employee threshold arbitrary, pointing out a business with just over 100 could lose employees due to the mandate and drop below the requirement. Others question the threshold when a company may have more than 100 employees but scattered through multiple locations. Many fear the mandate will further drain the state’s shallow pool of workers.

Let’s not lose sight of the gains in less than a year since the first vaccine was available. According to the CDC, as of Nov. 10, 89.8% of New Hampshire’s population age 12 and older has received at least one shot. The rate has steadily climbed since the start and increased in September as the current surge developed. Announcement of the mandate likely added to the increase as well.

As of Nov. 10, there have been 141,707 documented cases of COVID-19 infection in New Hampshire and 1,613 deaths attributed to the virus. State officials warn a surge this winter could be worse than last year. Health officials continue to plead with Granite Staters to get vaccinated and cite the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Full vaccination greatly reduces chances of infection, limiting spread of the virus. Vaccines are even more effective in reducing severe illness and death.

Even if the courts ultimately block the vaccine mandate the reality is that the higher percentage of our population that is vaccinated, the better off we all will be. Federal and state government must redouble efforts to promote vaccination through education, which could prove more productive in reaching the vaccine hesitant. BIA will continue to be a resource to our members and the New Hampshire business community to provide up to date, accurate information about federal and state vaccine policies.

David Juvet is senior vice president of public policy and interim president of the Business & Industry Association.

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