An employee uprising over vaccine mandates? Not so much

Remember those vaccine mandates? They might be working after all.

North Carolina’s major health care systems were some of the first employers in the state to announce a COVID vaccine mandate. Now, they’re finding that the vast majority of workers are willing to comply.

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The deadline for UNC Health’s roughly 29,000 employees to get vaccinated was Tuesday. Nearly 95% of those workers are in compliance with the mandate, health system officials said, and just 60 have resigned.

Similarly, 98.6% of more than 35,000 Novant Health employees have either received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccines or have been granted a medical or religious exemption. Just about 1% of workers are non-compliant and have been suspended, according to the hospital system. Those workers have been given five days to get vaccinated, and it’s likely at least some — and probably most — will comply.

The same is true of employers across the country. Delta Air Lines, for example, has seen a boost in its employee vaccination rate since announcing that unvaccinated employees would be penalized, with no increase in resignations, the airline said. Tyson Foods, which announced a vaccine requirement in August, cut the number of unvaccinated workers in half in less than a month.

For a while, many worried that vaccine mandates would result in a widespread quitting spree among those who weren’t willing to comply. Initial data in December 2020 from the Society for Human Resource Management suggested that 28% of workers would be willing to lose their job over the vaccine. But the mass resignations that many swore were coming haven’t materialized — more recent data indicates that the actual number of employees who have resigned over COVID policies is somewhere around 2%.

Surveys have shown broad public support for vaccine mandates, especially when handed down as a condition of employment. Still, support is split along party lines. After President Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates that will affect some 100 million U.S. workers, Republicans called for public uprising and “mass civil disobedience,” with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster vowing to fight Biden and other Democrats “to the gates of hell.”

Of course, there’s a difference between hypotheticals and real life. By all indications, those willing to put up a fight are a small — albeit loud — minority. We’ve seen remarkably little fury from employees; most are quietly choosing their paycheck and, we hope, the reality that the vaccines are safe and effective against the spread of COVID-19.

There are still a handful of vaccine holdouts, and in more rural communities, that might have a greater impact on the workforce. But most people, when given the choice, are getting the shot. That should be a signal to cities like Charlotte, which have low vaccination rates among police and firefighters, to mandate the vaccine as a condition of employment. Odds are, employees would rather keep their jobs (and their pensions) by rolling up their sleeves and getting the shot.

Yes, there are some who will never agree to get the vaccine. A mandate won’t change their mind; it was never going to. But we shouldn’t indulge their wishes simply because they’re the loudest.

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Much of the noise surrounding vaccine mandates is just that: noise. Employers should take the leap in requiring vaccinations for their workers — after all, it’s not much of a leap anymore.

— The Charlotte Observer

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