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Vaccine mandate stirring up controversy while it remains blocked in court

Public health officials say mandates could be a useful tool in beating the pandemic, but some lawmakers disagree.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 5:44 AM PST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Rolling up sleeves for safety in the workplace. That is the stated mission of the Biden Administration with its new labor department vaccine and testing guidelines. Public health professionals see mandates as an important weapon in this nearly two-year fight.

“I would think that most people will gradually accept it,” said Dr. Xinhua Yu, an epidemiologist at the University of Memphis.

Public health officials have been calling for the U.S to vaccinate its way out of the pandemic for months as COVID-19 continues to bring death to the country. But with a large enough percentage of Americans still resistant to the COVID vaccine, President Joe Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is saying companies with 100 employees must get everyone a shot or submit to weekly testing.

“We are at the last mile of a really long run, and I hope this mandate will push this last mile a bit further,” said Dr. Yu.

The federal rule is causing an uproar. It is blocked in court for the time being despite vaccine numbers remaining low in some areas, like in Tennessee where less than half the people are fully vaccinated. Dr. Yu said looking at his data, the people most opposed to the vaccines tend to be at higher risk of contracting COVID.

“It’s a surprise to me that there are so many people, a high percent of people, refusing to accept this public health strategy,” said Dr. Yu.

Some business leaders and elected officials are thrilled the guidance is blocked in the courts. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) claims it is not an anti-vaccine movement, but an issue of choice.

“Individuals are going to know best how to protect themselves, how to protect their families,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn argues there are some individuals who are not a candidate for the vaccine for health reasons. She said the federal government stepping in with guidance is the wrong approach.

“It’s better leaving individuals free to exercise their freedom, their independence and to make a choice,” said Blackburn.

The federal guidance is slated to go into effect in early January. Its fate in the court system is currently unclear.

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