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White House says workplace vaccine rule will help economy; Ducey says it burdens businesses

The Biden administration on Thursday  set Jan. 4 as the deadline for millions of American workers to either get vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested regularly for the virus. Gov. Doug Ducey is calling the rule a “direct attack” on personal liberties and businesses. But some Arizona workplaces have already implemented vaccine requirements with little pushback.

The rule, which was first announced in September, applies to businesses with more than 100 employees and is set to be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Employers must allow paid time off for workers to get vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees must wear masks in the workplace and test negative for the virus at least once a week.

The White House says the rule will bolster the economy by keeping workers healthy.

“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good. So I instituted requirements — and they are working. They protect our workers and have helped us reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans,” President Joe Biden said  in a Thursday press release.

But Ducey said the plan amounts to federal government overreach.

“After the difficulties that COVID-19 has posed for individuals, businesses and the current workforce shortages, the administration should be assisting with getting them back on their feet rather than imposing more regulatory burdens,”  Ducey said in a press release.

Melissa Barker, with the Duffy Group, an Arizona recruiting firm, said it is true that many industries are struggling to find employees right now.

“I think the vaccine mandate is going to further complicate it. I don’t think the complication is going to be as drastic as people might think, though,” Barker told KJZZ News.

She said employers she works with that have already implemented vaccine rules haven’t faced as much resistance as expected. She said one Phoenix-area agriculture tech company she works with went ahead with a vaccine requirement even though it employs only 60 people, and would not be required to follow the OSHA rule.

“People kind of grumbled and mumbled for a while, but then they complied because they all want to keep their job,” Barker said. “If they’re there and they really like their job, they’re going to comply.”

Nationwide, evidence suggests employer vaccine  requirements are highly effective. Polling from the  Kaiser Family Foundation shows 19% of Americans who recently got vaccinated did so because of an employer requirement.

In addition to the OSHA rule for medium and large businesses, a  second rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will require all staff at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 with no option to opt out through testing. That includes hospitals, long-term care facilities, home health agencies, and many other providers.

Several hospitals in the Phoenix area have  already implemented vaccine requirements with 95% or higher compliance rates among staff.

But  CMS data indicates many nursing home employees in Arizona remain unvaccinated. The average vaccination rate for workers in Arizona’s nursing homes is about 70%. The average rate nationwide is about 75%.

→  Arizona hospitals with Nov. 1 vaccine deadlines all report more than 95% compliance

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.