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Many States Are Trying To Prevent Vaccine Mandate Laws

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Some states are already moving to stop future vaccine mandates. I spoke to Hemi Tewarson about bills prohibiting vaccine mandates that are making their way through state legislatures across the country. She's executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy and has been tracking states as they're passing these bills.

HEMI TEWARSON: There have been nine states that have enacted 11 laws with prohibitions on vaccine mandates. Arizona and Arkansas each enacted two laws, actually, and there's variations across these bills. And one thing I did want to note - some of these bills were introduced earlier - you know, February, March - when we were in different stages of this pandemic, and they were enacted at different times, as well. There are some that are enacted back in April and some, most recently, at the end of June. And the vast majority of the bills only apply to state and local governments. So Montana's the one exception that really applies more broadly.

MARTINEZ: In the states that have passed the laws, are these states seeing major employers putting vaccine mandates in place?

TEWARSON: So in a couple of states - Arizona, for example, their prohibition on mandates only applies to state and local governments. But their largest health care employer, Banner Health Care (ph), just announced that they're going to mandate all their employees to get vaccinated. And if they can't get vaccinated, they will no longer have a job. They have exceptions for medical and religious considerations. I think the other thing to think about is - for Montana, for example, where the mandate was very broad, it was across, you know, both private and public employers. It's only tied to vaccinations that have emergency use authorization. So, you know, assuming Pfizer and Moderna move forward with the FDA and get full approval, that prohibition will no longer apply.

MARTINEZ: Right. Now, to be clear, the laws we've been talking about are for COVID-19 vaccines. But I'm wondering, Hemi, could this legislation impact efforts to get people vaccinated against things like, say, the measles?

TEWARSON: I think there is a concern that all the discussions around school-age children and not requiring them to get COVID-19 vaccines can bleed into other vaccinations. Now, look; we've been in a pandemic for 15 months. Kids are behind on their vaccines because they haven't been going to their routine immunization appointments, et cetera. For example, in Tennessee, there was a debate around Tennessee's Department of Health...

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

TEWARSON: ...Really pulling back on reaching out to adolescents for the COVID-19 vaccine. And that has spilled over into their other efforts to get adolescents vaccinated for other diseases such as measles. So I do think there is some concern that if we are so focused on the concerns around mandates, that could spill over into other efforts to get kids vaccinated for other things.

MARTINEZ: Now, in states where we're broad bans on vaccine mandates have passed through legislatures, what other options exist for public health officials or employers who may be trying to protect people from COVID?

TEWARSON: For most of the laws, it only applies to state and local government. So a private employer, a private school can decide on their own to require vaccinations. And in all of these states, they also have said you can encourage people to get vaccinated. You just can't require them. So, you know, Arkansas, the governor's out there every day - Governor Ducey in Arizona, same thing; Governor DeWine in Ohio. So there have been public pushes to get vaccinated. They just haven't been able to require it at the state and local government levels.

And we've seen just this week big companies like Facebook, Google, Netflix joining Morgan Stanley, Washington Post and other several high-profile employers around the country that are requiring their employees to get vaccinated. So it will be interesting to see if more employers follow suit. To date, the majority of employers haven't actually required their employees to get vaccinated. They've been using other incentives like time off for easy access, reduction in health care insurance, lotteries, et cetera. But given the surges in communities, I do think there could be more employers looking to mandate for their employees' safety.

MARTINEZ: That's Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Hemi, thanks a lot.

TEWARSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.