Public Health

Why court must preserve OSHA’s vaccine mandate

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

Editor’s note: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has extended the stay on OSHA's vaccination-and-testing standard and ordered that OSHA take no steps to implement or enforce the mandate until further court order. The AMA will continue to be involved in supporting efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the courts.

What’s the news: The AMA has urged the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to preserve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 vaccination-and-testing emergency temporary standard (ETS) for employers with 100 or more employees.

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“COVID-19 poses a grave danger to public health” and halting enforcement of the federal rule requiring workforce vaccination and testing would “severely and irreparably harm the public interest,” states an amicus brief filed by the AMA (PDF) in the case, BST Holdings v. OSHA.

The rule requires unvaccinated employees to produce a negative COVID-19 test result each week before coming to work and to wear a face covering when indoors. The OSHA ETS also requires companies with more than 100 employees to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated or recover from side effects experienced following each dose, if needed.



Why it’s important: More than 750,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Existing vaccine mandates have proven effective, and the medical community has led the way in promoting vaccinations for the health care workforce.

Leading by example, however, is not enough to end the grave danger posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective policies that require widespread vaccination must be preserved.

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“Other mitigation measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, remain important,” the brief says. “They do not, however, provide the same level of protection against COVID-19 as does vaccination.”

The OSHA ETS makes a similar argument.

“Workers are becoming seriously ill and dying as a result of occupational exposures to COVID-19, when a simple measure, vaccination, can largely prevent those deaths and illnesses,” the rule says. “The ETS protects these workers through the most effective and efficient control available—vaccination—and further protects workers who remain unvaccinated through required regular testing, use of face coverings, and removal of all infected employees from the workplace.”

The brief notes how workplace transmission has been a major factor in the spread of COVID-19 with outbreaks across numerous industries, including service and sales, education, hospitality, construction, domestic work, meat-processing, transportation, prison and health care.

It also cites a study that 45% more people reported missing work for medical reasons during 2020 than the previous 25-year average.

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What doctors wish employers knew about COVID-19 vaccine mandates

“The more people who share a workspace who are vaccinated, the better protected all workers—vaccinated and unvaccinated alike—will be,” the brief says. “Immediate, widespread vaccination against COVID-19 is the surest way to protect the U.S. workforce and the public and to end this costly pandemic.”

This is particularly important when the workers who cannot get vaccinated, due to a medical condition, share a workspace with others.

Major companies such as Walt Disney, Walmart, McDonald’s, Walgreens, Twitter, Facebook and Google have expressed to their employees that they must get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Learn more: Read more about how the AMA works in the courts to preserve health insurance coverage, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, pluralism and universal access for patients.

Learn what doctors wish patients knew about going back to work, and what they wish employers knew about COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The AMA is represented in the case by Democracy Forward, a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 that litigates cases involving government action on behalf of organizations, individuals and municipalities.

The AMA has published a resource to answer COVID-19 vaccine FAQs for physicians (PDF), along with a resource to help physicians and practice staff answer patient inquiries about COVID-19 vaccinations (PDF).