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Maryland resident receives the coronavirus vaccine

A woman receives her first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at a mass vaccination site on May 5, 2021 in Aberdeen, Maryland. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

60 US Health Groups Urge Companies to Voluntarily Implement Blocked Vaccine Rule

"Businesses who care about protecting their workers and communities from Covid are not suing OSHA," said one signatory. "They are encouraging vaccination."

Kenny Stancil

With the Biden administration's effort to require workers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or tested weekly now stalled due to right-wing legal challenges, dozens of healthcare experts and associations on Thursday urged businesses to swiftly implement the contested rule on a voluntary basis ahead of the busy holiday season, which epidemiologists fear will coincide with a surge in cases.

"Businesses have wanted to vanquish this virus. Now is their chance to step up and show they are serious."

"We—physicians, nurses and advanced practice clinicians, health experts, and healthcare professional societies—fully support the requirement that workers at companies with over 100 workers be vaccinated or tested," 60 professional organizations and 32 individuals wrote in a joint statement obtained by the Washington Post. "From the first day of this pandemic, businesses have wanted to vanquish this virus. Now is their chance to step up and show they are serious."

Signatory David Michaels, an epidemiologist and former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2009 to 2017, echoed that sentiment, saying that "businesses who care about protecting their workers and communities from Covid are not suing OSHA. They are encouraging vaccination."

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced that OSHA would begin enforcing a lifesaving Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in the coming weeks. Public health experts praised Biden in September when he first proposed new vaccine requirements, but 24 attorneys general threatened to sue, and several followed through immediately after the ETS was published in the federal register on November 5.

In response to a joint petition filed by a coalition of businesses, conservative advocacy groups, and the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a temporary injunction on November 6 and directed the White House to respond to the request for a permanent injunction.

Although the Department of Justice stressed that the Labor Department has the legal authority to protect workers amid a deadly public health emergency and requested on November 8 that the halt be lifted, the Fifth Circuit—which former President Donald Trump pushed in an even more conservative direction by appointing numerous far-right judges—upheld its stay last week, accusing the White House of federal overreach.

As a result, OSHA has suspended enforcement of the rule, pending further legal developments. At least 34 related lawsuits have been filed, many by GOP-led states, in federal appeals courts across the nation. Earlier this week, a federal judicial panel consolidated the lawsuits and randomly assigned the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court has a Republican majority, though it remains unclear which judges will hear the case.

While scholars have argued that the Biden administration is on solid legal ground in imposing public health precautions, the case is unlikely to be settled or make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court before December 5, when, under the ETS, companies with at least 100 employees would have been required to ensure that unvaccinated workers wear masks indoors. It's also unlikely that the high court will hear the case before January 4, when businesses would have been required to ensure that workers are vaccinated or tested weekly.

"To overcome Covid and the highly transmissible Delta variant, and return to 'normal,' we need to substantially increase the vaccination rate."

That's why five dozen groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and nearly three dozen practitioners wrote in their statement that they "encourage all businesses with 100 or more employees to not delay in implementing" OSHA's standard, which they called "reasonable and essential to protect workers."

More than 762,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, and the disease continues to kill over 1,000 Americans per day, most of them unvaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Thursday's statement, which was led by Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasizes that "many thousands have died from Covid contracted on the job, such as while caring for patients, supporting the elderly, preparing food for customers, selling goods in stores, and protecting the public from crime, fires, and other threats."

"Requiring masks for all unvaccinated workers by the December 5 deadline will be key to keeping customers and fellow workers safe during the holiday shopping and travel season," the statement continues. "And getting workers vaccinated or tested by the January 4 deadline will further protect workplaces and communities, bringing us closer to normal life and the end of this pandemic."

The statement came as scientists warned that the U.S. is likely to see another spike in Covid-19 cases this fall and winter, as colder weather forces people to spend more time indoors and breakthrough infections become more common due to waning immunity.

Although "evidence shows vaccine-conferred protection against hospitalization and death remains high several months after inoculation, vaccines for children older than five can reduce Covid transmission, and new antiviral medications hold the promise of making Covid-19 a treatable disease," The Guardian reported, "vaccine distribution is highly uneven across the U.S."

"Just 58.6% of the nation is vaccinated, lower than vaccination rates in some European nations now struggling with an increase in Covid-19 cases, such as in Germany and France," The Guardian noted.

Emanuel lamented to the Post that "we're not getting [enough] volunteers coming forward" to get inoculated. He added that U.S. health workers have been "pushed to the limit" and are frustrated that millions of people remain unvaccinated. "We're going to need mandates. And we know they're effective."

Citing recent data from Tyson Foods and United Airlines, the statement notes that "when employers require workers to get vaccinated, vaccination rates increase to over 90%. This is especially true for people who intended to get vaccinated but have just delayed or procrastinated. Courts have repeatedly supported the legality of employer mandates."

While all 50 Senate Republicans on Wednesday filed a formal challenge to the ETS through the Congressional Review Act, the corporate-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce has broken with the GOP on the issue, telling businesses on Monday to implement the Biden administration's vaccine rule until it is "shut down." A survey of 300 companies conducted Tuesday found that 60% of employers are proceeding as if the OSHA standard were valid.

In addition, recent polling shows that a majority of U.S. adults favor Covid-19 vaccination requirements, with only about one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents opposed.

"To overcome Covid and the highly transmissible Delta variant, and return to 'normal,'" the statement says, "we need to substantially increase the vaccination rate from its current level of under 60%. We need to vaccinate about another quarter of the American population, roughly 80 million more people."

If fully implemented, the Biden administration's jab-or-test rule for companies with 100 or more employees would affect up to "84.2 million workers at 1.9 million private-sector employers," according to Reuters. "OSHA estimates that 31.7 million of [those] workers are unvaccinated and 60% of employers will require vaccinations, up from 25% today, resulting in another 22.7 million employees getting vaccinated."

Recent studies confirm that vaccines save lives. In September, CDC researchers found that individuals in the U.S. who were not fully vaccinated last spring and summer were 11 times more likely to die after being infected with the coronavirus—and over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized—than those who were completely inoculated.

In the past two weeks, reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. have increased by 23%, according to the New York Times, and severe illness and death remain far more likely among unvaccinated patients.

A new projection from the esteemed long-term Covid-19 forecasters at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates an additional 100,000 people in the U.S. may die from the disease between now and March 2022. Under IHME's worst-case scenario, the nation's Covid-19 death toll could top one million by next March.

Due in part to the persistence of a global "vaccine apartheid," Covid-19 has killed over 5.1 million people and counting worldwide.

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