Q&A on COVID-19 Vaccines Led By VUMC Infectious Disease Expert and Local Law Partner

During a recent Good to Go webinar for Nashville area employers, David Aronoff, MD, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, presented the latest updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, discussed reinfection rates and new variants, and detailed the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Aron Karabel, a partner at Nashville-based Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis law firm, also joined the Jan. 27 webinar to discuss mandatory COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace.

Here are a few helpful Q&As from their presentation:

What do we know about the new variants?
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Some emerge and disappear, while others persist. Multiple COVID-19 “crown-like” variants are circulating globally, including recent strains from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil. We don't yet know how widely these new variants have spread or how the disease caused by these new variants differs from the disease caused by other variants that are currently circulating.

We also don't know how these variants affect existing therapies and vaccines. However, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are showing protective activity against emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2. Moderna will be testing new “booster vaccines” to better target the immune response against these newer emerging strains. This is an evolving story.

While employees are waiting for COVID-19 vaccines, what can employers do in the meantime?
Encourage employés to do the following:

  • Get the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine.
  • Follow CDC guidelines, including wearing a mask when in public, regular hand washing, etc.
  • Stay up-to-date on routine health care and preventive services.
  • Ensure safety of worksite including consideration of a testing strategy.
  • Consider COVID-19 vaccine education and services.

Can employers require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer may require all employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Can employers require employees to provide proof that they have received the vaccination?
Yes. However, doing so could implicate HIPAA because immunization records protected health information. A healthcare provider will need employees’ written authorization to disclose COVID-19 vaccination records to employers.

What laws do mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations implicate?
Requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination could implicate the following laws:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
  • The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)

What does President Joe Biden's Jan. 21, 2021, Executive Order Protecting Worker Health and Safety mean for employers?
We will see more guidance from federal regulators in the coming days and weeks concerning COVID-19 workplace safety. "There will be an outreach that we haven't seen yet that will require employers to pivot," Karabel said, "We will be required to have a plan in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace."

What's the status of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations on the state level?
One bill in the Tennessee House and one bill in the Tennessee Senate have been filed that prohibit state and local governmental entities from requiring vaccinations. Some oppose such bills, believing legislation that prohibits vaccinations of the workforce limits employers' ability to manage their employees, within reason, as they see fit.

To hear more of Aronoff and Karabel's presentation, listen to the full recording at this link.