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Can employers require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine once approved?

Health officials are predicting the COVID-19 vaccine could be in Texas within the next two weeks.

If approved, a COVID-19 vaccine could roll out in Texas this month. While health officials expect a limited supply early on, a big question still stands: Can employers require their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Texas employment lawyer Daniel Ross said yes.

"Right now, there's nothing that prevents an employer from requiring its employees to take the vaccine once it becomes available," said Ross. 

Ross said although employers can require employees to get the vaccine, there are some exceptions, like medical issues and religious beliefs.  

"You would have to look at the underlying health conditions to see whether this person is actually considered disabled under the ADA or if this person is considered to have a religious, deeply held religious beliefs that would prevent them from having from being vaccinated," said Ross.

During the pandemic, our understanding of COVID-19 has evolved and so have the rules, such as wearing masks inside businesses. Ross predicts when the vaccine becomes widely available, we will see more clear rules from the government.

"All we can do is look at guidelines," said Ross. "We look at the EEOC guidelines. The EEOC says right now it's best to recommend that people take the vaccination rather than requiring employees to take it."  

Austin Public Health agrees, saying in this early stage they do not recommend making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for employment. 

Hospitals in Central Texas are making plans too. St. David’s HealthCare sent a statement saying: 

"Extensive planning is underway for administration of the vaccine to hospital employees and medical staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a tiered system of critical populations to receive the COVID-19 vaccination in a prioritized order. Based on availability of the vaccine, hospital employees and medical staff who are providing direct COVID care and are at the highest risk will be in the first wave of vaccination. As the vaccine becomes more widely available, additional hospital employees and medical staff will be offered the vaccine. Vaccination will be optional; no employee or medical staff member will be required to receive it." 

UT economy professor Daniel Hamermesh suggested employers give incentives for getting the vaccine.  

"Thinking like an economist, which I am," said Hamermesh, "I would offer a hundred bucks to each person who gets vaccinated since the employer benefits from it by having a safe workplace."  

For now, health officials are predicting the vaccine won't be available to the general public until the middle of next year.  

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