My biggest worry during the pandemic? My mom.

On the plus side, she’s in good health. An adult-onset athlete, she’s worked out for as long as I can remember. On the minus side, her age puts her at high risk for complications from COVID-19.

She’d disinherit me if I revealed her actual age, so I’ll just say she is older than Dolly Parton, but younger than Betty White.

I’ve kept pretty close tabs on her since March. Daily chats to keep her spirits up and remind her to follow safety protocols. Weekly in person visits, masked up or outside, to eyeball her health and drop off PPE.

It’s given my own little family a good reason to be extra vigilant. The 3 W(s)—wash your hands, wear a mask, and watch your distance—have become second nature to my kids. No indoor dining. No parties. No playdates. All because no one wants to get Grandma sick.

But there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. My mom may be a few months, if not weeks, away from being vaccinated. And in due course, my husband and I and our kids will be vaccinated.

A vaccine is a game changer in the coronavirus crisis, moving us closer to the illusive “herd immunity.”

While millions will line up to be immunized, there will be some reluctant to be vaccinated. Maybe they are worried about the safety of a vaccine developed with unprecedented speed. Maybe they are worried that it based on a technology, mRNA, that is not currently used in any licensed vaccines in the U.S. Or maybe they buy into one of the myriad of “fake news” stories about vaccines.

Regardless of their reasons, there are going to be some people who refuse to be vaccinated. Can employers, schools, or the government force people to be vaccinated?

Can your employer fire you if you refuse to get immunized against COVID-19?

Yes, with a few exceptions.

An employer can legally impose a vaccine mandate, but employees have the right to request medical or religious exemptions under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Evaluating each exemption request would be a time-consuming process for employers. Given the backlash we have already seen against mask mandates, we might not see very many employers with a vaccine mandate. Too difficult to enforce.

Can your state or city make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?

Yes, they can so long as the mandate is reasonable, proportional, and enforced in a non-discriminatory manner. But as shut-down orders, business restrictions, and mask mandates have been political, I would suspect vaccine mandates would too. And again, they would be difficult to enforce.

Can schools make COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?

There is no national mandate for which vaccines children must receive in order to attend school. These decisions fall to the states, including what exemptions parents may request.

In Texas, for example, parents can claim exemptions for medical reasons or for “reasons of conscience” (for you non-Texans, it’s as broad as it sounds).

States typically rely on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for which vaccines children and teens should receive.

Assuming there will be a vaccine approved for use in children, my guess is that most jurisdictions will rely on voluntary vaccination first and see if they get an adequate response from parents.

A final note. As promising as the recent vaccine news has been, it’s still going to be awhile before we reach immunity levels to prevent outbreaks. Keep up with the hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing.

As my kindergartener likes to say, “we’ve got to protect the grandmas and the sick people.”

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