Herndon, USA - April 27, 2020: Virginia Fairfax County building exterior sign entrance to Mom's Organic Market store with request to wear face mask due to covid-19 pandemic.

Are Employers That Ditch Mask Mandates Liable for COVID-19 Infections at Work?

By Chloe Reichel

Last week, in response to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance indicating that vaccinated individuals need not wear face coverings indoors, a number of states and businesses swiftly did away with indoor mask mandates.

Widespread criticism followed, focusing on the dangerous policy vacuum that now exists. The CDC has suggested unvaccinated individuals follow an honor system and continue masking — but such an honor system is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

In the absence of indoor mask policies, individuals face increased risk of exposure to the virus. And some groups are particularly at risk of contracting the virus now, including immunocompromised individuals, for whom vaccines may not confer protection, and children under the age of 12, for whom a vaccine has not yet been authorized.

To better understand the new guidance and its implications for workers who are no longer protected by mask mandates, I spoke with Sharona Hoffman, an expert in health and employment law. Hoffman is the Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law, a professor of bioethics, and Co-Director of Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. In our interview, Hoffman explained whether an employer may be held liable if an employee contracts COVID-19 after an occupational exposure, and highlighted other key issues to anticipate regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.

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Los Angeles, California / USA - May 1, 2020: People in front of Los Angeles’ City Hall protest the state’s COVID-19 stay at home orders in a “Fully Open California” protest.

5 Questions About COVID-19 and Religious Exemptions

By Chloe Reichel

On February 26th, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a shadow docket decision that could foretell sweeping limitations for public health measures, both within and outside the COVID-19 pandemic context.

The Court’s ruling in the case, Gateway City Church v. Newsom, blocked a county-level ban on church services, despite the fact that the ban applied across the board to all indoor gatherings. This religious exceptionalism is emerging as a key trend in recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly those related to COVID-19 restrictions.

To better understand what these rulings might mean for public health, free exercise of religion, the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential vaccine mandates, I spoke with Professor Elizabeth Sepper, an expert in religious liberty, health law, and equality at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

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Empty classroom.

Can Colleges and Universities Require Student COVID-19 Vaccination?

This post originally appeared on the Harvard Law Review Blog.

By I. Glenn Cohen and Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

In the last year, colleges and universities across the U.S. struggled with how to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent data, from January 2021, shows a mix of online and in-person modes of instruction.

Pie chart of modes of instruction for higher education institutions during the pandemic.

At the same time, a study of the experience in early fall 2020 found an association between colleges and universities with in-person instruction and increased infection incidence in the counties within which the schools were located. With vaccine authorization in the U.S. and the promise of potential availability for student populations in late spring and summer 2021 (in most states’ allocation plans these students are among the last groups in prioritization), there is increasing interest by higher education institutions in moving more of their fall 2021 educational instruction and non-instructional activities to in-person modes. Vaccinating students is a key step to safely reopening campuses, in whole or in part, in a way that is safe for students, faculty, staff, and local communities. At the same time, university leaders are likely reasonably concerned about the legality of mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Not all students, faculty or staff may appreciate such a requirement, and anti-vaccine groups are more than ready to assist in litigation — as, for example, they did when the University of California required influenza vaccines for on-campus attendance (a preliminary injunction in that case was denied). In this essay, we discuss whether universities can legally require vaccination as a condition of attendance and with what accommodations.

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Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine.

Can Employers Mandate a Vaccine Under Emergency Use Authorization?

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Several months ago, I wrote a post asking whether employers can mandate the uptake of a vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). My view then was that there was substantial legal uncertainty, but that the balance indicated that at the least, they may be possible, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Much of that discussion is still relevant, but developments and new points brought to my attention since have changed my view.

At this point, while there is still legal uncertainty, my view is that the balance of factors supports the ability of employers (or states) to require EUA vaccines. Courts vary, but my current assessment is that most courts would be inclined to uphold an employer mandate for an EUA COVID-19 vaccine.

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Person receiving vaccine.

Complex Regulations Push Employers Toward Voluntary Vaccination Programs, Not Mandates

By Lauren Hammer Breslow, JD, MPH

As COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available, employers have been thrust into the spotlight on the public health question of whether or not to mandate vaccination for employees.

Despite strong evidence that mandatory vaccines best serve public health, a rubric of laws making mandatory programs complicated to deploy is leading many employers to favor vaccine encouragement policies.

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Close up of a Doctor making a vaccination in the shoulder of patient.

Authorize Emergency Vaccines for COVID-19, but Do It Well

By Holly Fernandez Lynch, Alison Bateman-House, and Arthur Caplan

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) for one or more COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year — perhaps even before the end of the day, given today’s advisory committee meeting.

The agency’s decision on these EUAs will balance the need for additional data on safety and efficacy against the potential to protect at-risk groups as quickly as possible. EUAs tip the balance in favor of speed, which can be reasonable for these populations given the circumstances, especially in light of the strong trial data reported for three COVID-19 vaccines since mid-November. But the tradeoff is very real: vaccine EUAs will substantially lower the likelihood of ongoing trials completing and new trials successfully recruiting volunteers. There are a few ways to minimize these consequences.

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Syringe and money.

Why the Government Shouldn’t Pay People to Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19

By Ana Santos Rutschman

As several pharmaceutical companies approach the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking authorization to bring COVID-19 vaccines to market, concerns about vaccine mistrust cloud the prospects of imminent vaccination efforts across the globe. These concerns have prompted some commentators to suggest that governments may nudge vaccine uptake by paying people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

This post argues that, even if potentially viable, this idea is undesirable against the backdrop of a pandemic marked by the intertwined phenomena of health misinformation and mistrust in public health authorities. Even beyond the context of COVID-19, paying for vaccination is dubious public health policy likely to backfire in terms of (re)building public trust in vaccines.

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Restaurant closed sign - "we cannot wait to see you again. stay safe."

Under an EUA, Can Businesses Require Employees and Customers to Get Vaccinated?

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

As promising data emerges for COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials, two manufacturers of these vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, have submitted requests for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA).

An EUA would allow vaccines to be used before full FDA approval, during the time that COVID-19 is an emergency.

The promise of a safe, effective vaccine offers a glimmer of hope not just for individuals around the world affected by the pandemic, but also for businesses large and small that have struggled with closures and public health-related changes to operations. A natural question that has emerged as private businesses contemplate a return to normalcy is whether they can mandate that employees and customers receive these vaccines authorized for emergency use.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

What Does the Good News on the Vaccine Front Mean?

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

In the past weeks, three companies in advanced stages of COVID-19 vaccine trials reported good news. Moderna and Pfizer reported, respectively, 94.5% and 95% effectiveness of their mRNA vaccines in preventing symptomatic disease and similarly high effectiveness in preventing severe disease.

This was shortly followed by news that the AstraZeneca vaccine had over 70% effectiveness, and 90% with a different dosage regime.

The companies have also reported a favorable safety profile, with no serious harms attributed to the vaccine, though the vaccines do cause a high rate of temporary and unpleasant side effects, including local reactions and temporary flu-like symptoms.

Pfizer has already applied for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA, and I would expect Moderna and AstraZeneca to follow suit.

What does this mean? First, a note of caution. These are reports from the companies; the FDA has not yet finished examining the data. Examination may raise questions. The data submitted has to pass dual review.

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Vaccine.

Past Anti-Vax Campaign Provides Insights for Current COVID-19 Debates

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

A new book on a prominent misinformation campaign targeting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has profound insights into current vaccine debates, such as those emerging around a potential COVID-19 immunization.

The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines,” by Brian Deer, exposes the elaborate fraud perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield, the former British gastroenterologist who, in the late 1990s, created a scare about MMR vaccine by suggesting it caused autism.

Brian Deer is the journalist who, through several years of dogged investigation, exposed Wakefield’s hidden conflicts of interests and misrepresentations, showing that the small study used to create the scare was not just deeply flawed – as was apparent on its face – but an elaborate fraud.

Unfortunately, Wakefield and his misrepresentations are still with us, and are still putting children at risk all around the world. This makes Deer’s book – which teaches us how Wakefield tricked the world, and the lasting impact of his fraud – timely and important.

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