California Legislators Push To Mandate Vaccines For Employees Of All Businesses

California legislators are trying to succeed where the federal government couldn’t by mandating that all businesses require their employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, introduced a bill Friday that would mandate vaccines for workplaces and require employers to verify that their workers are immunized. New hires would need to have at least one shot by their first day — and the second within 45 days.

The measure, AB1993, would include exemptions for people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons or those who oppose vaccines on religious grounds.

Wicks considered a similar proposal last year, but ultimately decided to wait. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s mandate that large employers require each worker to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.

But states can proceed with their own mandates, and Wicks’ bill would go further than the federal effort. Her bill would apply to employers of all sizes, as well as independent contractors.

Wicks announced the bill during a virtual news conference with medical experts and business and labor leaders Friday. She said the best way for California to enter the endemic phase of COVID-19 is to increase vaccination rates.

“The pathway to endemic is through vaccines,” Wicks said. “That’s fundamentally what this bill is about, is getting back some sense of normalcy so we can go on with our lives and we don’t have these constant interruptions and outbreaks.”

If passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, AB1993 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and businesses that don’t comply would be subject to penalties. The amount of the penalty isn’t specified in the bill.

Public health officials say that while some vaccinated people are still getting infected with the coronavirus, particularly the highly transmissible omicron variant, they are less likely to catch it and far less likely to become seriously ill.

Unvaccinated people are nearly six times more likely to get infected with the coronavirus, 11 times more likely to be hospitalized and 21 times more likely to die from it than people who are fully vaccinated, according to recent statistics from the California Department of Public Health.

Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said mandates such as AB1993 are necessary because — even after efforts to coax people with rewards for getting immunized and educate them about the safety of vaccines — there are many holdouts who’ve exacerbated the spread of COVID-19.

“We have a history of over 100 years of mandated vaccines,” he said. “That history shows us that they work. When people are vaccinated, the world is safer.”

Wicks’ bill is part of a series of high-profile vaccine proposals expected to be hotly debated at the state Capitol this year — measures that come as public health officials warn that resistance to vaccines could prolong the pandemic.

Among the other vaccine measures:

* SB871 by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would expand California’s existing COVID-19 vaccine mandate for K-12 students by removing the personal belief exemption.

*  SB866 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would allow young people ages 12 to 17 to receive vaccines, including for COVID-19, without parental consent or knowledge.

*  AB1797 by Assembly Member Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa (San Diego County), would require health providers to submit all student vaccine records to the state’s confidential immunization registry; school administrators could also check the registry.

Any proposals to tighten immunization requirements are expected to stir fierce resistance from opponents of mandatory vaccines. Critics of vaccine laws say such mandates don’t make sense when the coronavirus already seems to be an endemic disease and many vaccinated people are still contracting the virus.

Republican legislators and some business groups are also likely to fight the proposed mandate. Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher of Nicolaus (Sutter County) said that while he personally supports getting vaccinated, it’s wrong to bar people from earning a living if they disagree.

“Telling people they can’t feed their family unless they get the vaccine is just wrong,” he said in a statement. “I trust Californians enough to treat them like adults who can make their own health care decisions.”


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