What does full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine mean for businesses?

What does full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine mean for businesses?

Shots for shots: A patron gets vaccinated at Seacrets bayside bar and nightclub in Ocean City May 28 during a visit by Gov. Larry Hogan. Anyone who received a COVID-19 vaccine was given a voucher for savings on their favorite dish, beverage or merchandise. It was part of a tour bringing mobile clinics and vaccine outreach to cultural and community events, bars and breweries, and popular destinations across the state. Governor’s Office photo

@BryanRenbaum

The Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has led to considerable discussion about an increase in vaccine mandates.

The status of the company’s vaccine was upgraded on Monday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first COVID-19 shot to receive government approval, but previously the approval was only for emergency use.

The two other COVID-19 vaccines, which are manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are only approved for emergency use. However, that could change within the next few weeks.

Vaccine mandates for members of the military and federal employees and contractors are about to take effect.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan has opted against state-imposed vaccine mandates and the state has instead encouraged businesses to impose their own mandates.

And many businesses have already begun to do that.

So, now that one vaccine has been fully approved, do businesses have more leeway to mandate vaccinations?

“The approval will certainly make some employers more comfortable about mandating vaccinations. However, it doesn’t change the legal landscape,” Jennifer Berman, a Pikesville-based employee benefits attorney, told MarylandReporter.com. “Employees will still have to be given the chance to opt-out based on religious conviction or medical necessity.”

Sarah Sawyer, a labor and employment attorney with the Baltimore-based law firm Offit Kurman, noted that even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said businesses can mandate that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, many have chosen not to because of the threat of potential litigation.

“Many employers have shied away from mandating the vaccine because of the administrative burden and risks associated with disgruntled employees filing lawsuits.”

However, Sawyer also noted that she has recently seen an increase in the number of businesses that are imposing vaccine mandates.

“Even before the Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, I have seen an uptick in my clients mandating vaccination. This is especially true for my clients whose operations are dependent on employees physically coming into work. This uptick in mandatory vaccination policies has primarily been due to an increased risk to operations caused by growing positivity rates and governments and more prominent companies mandating vaccination.”

And this could quite possibly become the norm, Sawyer said.

“I anticipate that the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine will result in another increase in mandatory vaccination policies as the likelihood of employee pushback and lawsuits continue to decrease.”

But how do business leaders feel about vaccine mandates?

“I still truly believe the best path for a business is to encourage ALL employees to get vaccinated, using whichever vaccine is easiest to obtain,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said. “Employers ought to make that process as easy and accessible as possible. I also think it’s best if we leave the specific decisions on masks, distancing, and control of employees and customers to the individual businesses. They have proven over the last 17 months that they do their best to try to keep both their workers and their customers as safe as possible.”

Washington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Frey said vaccine mandates are likely to increase now that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot has been given full approval.

“Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the FDA, and given the surge of the cases of the Delta variant infection, it would appear that more businesses will be mandating that their employees get the Covid vaccination. This includes the public sector, institutions of higher education, public school systems, and nonprofits. In many cases, the general public will demand this action, or they will not patronize those businesses that don’t mandate vaccinations for their employees, as well as mandate face coverings until the latest surge is under control.”

Maryland Retailers Association President Cailey Locklair said that while her organization opposes “one size fits all mandates from government,” it does support the right of businesses to decide whether or not they wish to impose vaccine mandates.

“We support the right for businesses to make decisions about their employees and customers that fits their workplace and environment….Retailers have proven over and over again our ability to operate safely.”

About The Author

Bryan Renbaum

Bryan@MarylandReporter.com

Reporter Bryan Renbaum served as the Capitol Hill Correspondent for Talk Media News for the past three-and-a-half years, filing print, radio and video reports on the Senate and the House of Representatives. He covered congressional reaction to the inauguration of President Donald Trump as well as the confirmation hearings of attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He also filed breaking news reports on the 2017 shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others. Previously Bryan broke multiple stories with the Baltimore Post-Examiner including sexual assault scandals at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a texting scandal on the women’s lacrosse team at that school for which he was interviewed by ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He also covered the Maryland General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session as an intern for Maryland Reporter. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from McDaniel College. If you have additional questions or comments contact Bryan at: bryan@marylandreporter.com

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