Reporter: Brian New
With the likelihood of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available as soon as the end of the year, could the government mandate you to get a vaccine?
The simple answer is yes.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states have the “authority to require mandatory vaccinations.”
While no one will be thrown in jail for not getting a vaccine, states could restrict people who are not vaccinated from traveling into their state, going to large sporting events or concerts, or going to bars.
“If you see cases rising and governors realizing the only way you are going to reopen the economy is to try and get the vast majority of people vaccinated, I would suspect you would see a lot of pressure to do something,” said Merrill Matthews, a health policy expert with the non-partisan think-tank Institute for Policy Innovation.
Matthews said it would be highly unlikely for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to mandate a vaccine but said he would not be surprised if many traditional “blue” states mandated it.
Along with state governments, counties struggling with high COVID-19 case numbers could also try and mandate a vaccine.
Health officials estimates between 60-80% of Americans would need to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order create a “herd immunity”.
Epidemiologists say a “herd immunity” is what’s needed to end this epidemic.
However, most U.S. adults, when it’s left up to their own choice, tend to skip recommended vaccines.
According to a recent CDC report, only 43% of Texas adults get a flu shot every year.
If that holds for a COVID-19 vaccine states, Matthews said states might be inclined to mandate it.
However, in Texas, what’s far more likely than a government mandate is for businesses to mandate a vaccine.
Legally, employers can make the vaccine a condition of employment – meaning you could be fired for refusing to vaccinate.
There are exemptions for religious and medical reasons but it has to be more than just a person belief that vaccines may be harmful.
Matthews said a vaccine requirement is almost a given if you work at a hospital or nursing home but may also be required if you work at a restaurant, bar, retail store, or factory.
“Businesses want to avoid the liability of someone coming down and claiming that they got it at the work place,” Matthews said. “They have taken a lot of steps, especially retail stores, to make sure their employees are safe and protected. Mandating or requiring a vaccine for them doesn’t seem like it would be a major step.”
The mandates could also be directed towards customers.
Those “no mask – no entry” signs could be extended to “no vaccine – no entry”.
But this approach could backfire.
Any vaccine mandate, especially in Texas, would likely be met by some with an aggressive pushback and that could lead to fewer adults getting what health officials say is needed to end this pandemic.
What Matthews said he believes is key, and is often overlooked, is the development of a treatment for COVID-19.
While having an effective treatment wouldn’t eliminate the need for a vaccine, Matthews said it would offer those who decide not to get a vaccine an opportunity to reduce their symptoms and return to normal life.