Can a Healthcare Worker Refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine?

December 15, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce

Last modified December 22, 2020

As hospitals across the country develop their plans to vaccinate their healthcare employees against COVID-19, key questions have come up: What if an employee — whether nurse, physician, or other healthcare worker — refuses to receive the vaccine? Can hospitals require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19? And what consequences could an employee face for refusing the vaccine?

According to this article from Medscape, the answer may be related to how things are handled with the influenza vaccine. If we look at the law related to healthcare workers refusing to be vaccinated against the closest relative to COVID-19 — influenza — then the answer would be yes, employers can require employees to be vaccinated. However, currently there is not an approved vaccine for COVID-19, and as of December 2020, there are no state or federal laws that either require an employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or that protect an employee who refuses vaccination against COVID-19. It will take a while after the vaccine is approved and distributed before refusals, reactions, policies, cases, and laws begin to emerge.

The situation with the COVID-19 vaccine is different from the situation surrounding influenza vaccines. Public confidence in the vaccine vetting process is not what it once was. As of December 2020, only 60% of the general population say they would take the vaccine, although researchers say confidence is increasing. The CDC has designated healthcare workers as first in line to get the vaccine, but some healthcare workers may not want to be the first to try it. A CDC survey found that 63% of healthcare workers polled in recent months said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine.

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