- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2021

The American Medical Association and dozens of health care groups urged large companies Thursday to begin implementing President Biden’s vaccinate-or-test mandate voluntarily, saying the U.S. cannot afford to delay while the regulation is fought in the courts.

The health care groups said coronavirus clusters have been traced to offices, retail and food settings and that broader vaccination is needed to stave off a winter COVID-19 spike.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, citing a court order, recently hit pause on Mr. Biden’s mandate, an emergency temporary standard (ETS) that would require employers with 100 or more workers to figure out which employees are vaccinated and regularly test workers who refuse the shots as of Jan. 4.

The AMA and allies say businesses should adopt the policy on their own as cases rise and the drop in hospitalizations flatlines on the cusp of the holiday shopping and travel season. The U.S. vaccination rate is stuck below 60%.

“We — physicians, nurses and advanced practice clinicians, health experts, and health care professional societies — fully support the requirement that workers at companies with over 100 workers be vaccinated or tested,” they wrote. “This requirement by the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reasonable and essential to protect workers. We encourage all businesses with 100 or more employees to not delay in implementing this standard.”

The effort involves prominent medical groups such as the American College of Physicians and the National Hispanic Medical Association and key figures such as Ezekiel Emanuel, a prominent health adviser during the Obama administration and brother to politician Rahm Emanuel.

SEE ALSO: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly: OSHA pause of COVID-19 mandate for large businesses is ‘right decision’

Andy Slavitt, who advised Mr. Biden on COVID-19 earlier this year, also signed the letter, alongside frequently quoted health experts like Ashish K. Jha of Brown University and Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota.

“Compared to the vaccinated, the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die,” the letter says. “Any vaccine risk is considerably less common and less serious than the consequences of contracting COVID.”

It is unclear whether businesses will heed their call. Many companies developed their own mandates or incentive plans before OSHA published its rule and a litany of businesses are fighting the standard in court, saying it will cause upheaval in the workplace and they cannot afford to lose workers who violate the rules.

OSHA recently suspended activities related to the mandate after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a stay of the standard. The fight is pivoting to the Sixth Circuit and any decision it makes could lead the parties to seek redress before the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said businesses should consider the mandate to be on the books until and unless it is struck down.

“Ultimately the courts are going to decide, but employers still need to take this as a live ETS until it is definitively shut down,” Marc Freedman, the chamber’s vice president of employment policy, told CNBC earlier this week. “They should not bank on the preliminary actions of the 5th Circuit.”

SEE ALSO: OSHA has ‘suspended activities’ related to Biden’s vaccine mandate

The chamber had pressed the Biden administration to delay implementation of the rules until after the holiday season. Business groups say employers are grappling with a tight labor market and cannot afford to lose workers due to mandates.

The AMA and other letter signers said the U.S. cannot afford to wait.

“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,” they wrote. “Implementing these commonsense OSHA standards is an important step for our workers, businesses, and the nation as a whole.”

The letter puts the groups at odds with congressional Republicans who formally oppose the OSHA rule. Many in the GOP say they are pro-vaccine but don’t think people should lose their jobs for refusing the shots, citing personal freedoms and the potential shocks to the economy.

Every GOP senator and most House Republicans signed onto disapproval resolutions that would quash the rule under the Congressional Review Act. Though unlikely to succeed, the measures should force Democrats to vote in early December on whether to support or oppose Mr. Biden’s rule.

While the OSHA fight proceeds, U.S. military members and federal workers are beginning to feel the pinch of vaccine mandates.

Some Republicans are worried that agencies are pressuring employees to get vaccinated instead of seeking legally protected exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

“My office has been inundated with communications from concerned federal employees, contractors, and members of the armed services who do not believe they have been free to pursue these legally required accommodations,” Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, wrote Thursday to Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“Some believe they have not been adequately consulted on how to seek an accommodation, some believe that they will be retaliated against if they seek an accommodation, and others have sought an accommodation and feel that they are being retaliated against currently,” he wrote.

The senator asked Ms. Young to explain whether federal agencies are consulting with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on exemptions and a worker’s right to seek them.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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