None of this is official, at least not yet. The primary source for this report from NBC News is Andy Slavitt, who was previously the Biden administration’s point person on COVID response protocols. Slavitt is predicting that while there may never be any sort of federal mandate for everyone in the country to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, state and local governments, along with individual businesses and employers, will probably be enacting requirements for immunity passports of some sort in the near future. Of course, those efforts will run into a legal brick wall in nearly half of the states where laws are either already on the books or being drafted, forbidding vaccination requirements for participation in most activities. There is still one barrier to overcome before those floodgates open, but it’s likely to fall before the end of the year.
The United States could see a wave of Covid-19 vaccine mandates as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to one or more of the shots, public health experts predicted.
The three vaccines authorized by the FDA for emergency use against the coronavirus have proven safe and effective under that expedited review process and in the real world, and doctors and the nation’s top public health officials have said there’s no need for anyone to wait to get inoculated.
But as the pace of vaccinations lags and concerns about the highly-contagious delta variant grow, the official regulatory signoff would remove a significant legal and public relations barrier for businesses and government agencies that want to require vaccinations for their employees and customers, former health officials from the Biden and the Obama administrations said.
The primary sticking point for mandates right now is the fact that the three vaccines being used in the United States currently all only have emergency approval from the FDA. Forcing people to take a vaccine that hasn’t finished all of its testing and received final approval is problematic both legally and politically. That’s why the military is holding off on adding the COVID vaccine to its lengthy list of required vaccinations. (If you’ve ever served in the military and been assigned to go overseas, you’ll remember that you basically can’t even move your arm for a week.)
But once that final approval is issued, the flood gates may be about to open. Pfizer recently said that they expect full FDA approval by early January of 2022 at the latest. The acting FDA commissioner responded that it could be much sooner. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are expected to follow not long after.
Colleges and universities are already moving to require vaccinations to appear on campus in some cases and that’s likely to expand. Local governments will almost certainly add COVID to the required list of vaccinations for public K-12 schools.
In the private sector, businesses may start requiring immunity passports for both customers and employees. While this specific vaccine hasn’t been tested in court yet, most legal analysts believe that they’ll be able to get away with it. That came as something of a shock to me because after I left the military, I have never held a job where my employer asked about any other vaccinations I may or may not have gotten.
If Slavitt is correct, Joe Biden may not stick with his current rejection of federal vaccination mandates. He predicts that once full approval is given, the White House may try an incremental approach. The first step would likely be a requirement for the military, health care workers at VA hospitals, and workers who have to deal with the public regularly, such as TSA screeners. What’s unclear is whether the federal government would dare to try to make the vaccine mandatory for civilians who don’t work for the government. As NBC News points out, that has never been tested in court because it’s never been attempted. The subsequent lawsuits should truly be something to behold if they try it, however.