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Could the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory for healthcare workers?

Posted at 6:25 AM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 11:51:41-04

TULSA, Okla. — There is a massive case that's changing the landscape of returning to the workplace during the vaccine rollout. Over the weekend, a Texas judge threw out a lawsuit where workers at Houston Methodist Hospital accused their employer of coercion by requiring all employees to get vaccinated.

The federal judge says the choice to require staff to be vaccinated was not coercion, but rather a choice the hospital system made to, "keep staff, patients and their families safer."

So, what does this mean for hospitals in Oklahoma?

So far, no Oklahoma hospitals are requiring their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. However, that could change in the future.

The majority of healthcare officials hope a mandate makes its way to Oklahoma.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also reiterated that its laws don’t stop employers from requiring all their workers to be vaccinated unless they have accommodations for religious beliefs, a disability, or if they are pregnant.

Adam Childers, labor and employment lawyer for Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City, says mandatory vaccines in Oklahoma hospitals are likely to come and the trend is only the start of a much larger movement.

“This is going to be a 'flash-point' in terms of the healthcare industry and the general debate about vaccines in the workplace. We may see other healthcare industries joining in, and who knows, the question is whether we’ll see other sectors of the workplace joining in on the policy,” Childers said.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Medical Association says it’s critical that everyone who is eligible should get the vaccine, even if that means a mandate. Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the association, says getting vaccinated is expected in the medical community.

“If you don’t want to do that, then being in medicine is probably not the best place for you. Our job is to keep as many people healthy as long as possible. The vaccine is how we do that as a preventive measure,” Dr. Clarke said.

All COVID-19 vaccines remain under emergency use. Mandatory vaccinations will likely become much more common once all of the COVID-19 vaccines are fully authorized by the FDA. Healthcare officials say that won’t likely come until May 2022.

In talking with legal and medical experts, the consensus is that mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is legal, and medically responsible.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the 117 suspended workers at Houston Methodist Hospital have vowed to appeal the case, even if that means taking it to the way up to the Supreme Court.

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