By Lucia Unsworth
In mid-January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published an initial draft report saying that the proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate put forth in a recent legislative proposal would have a “serious adverse health impact on large construction employers in the State of Illinois”.
At this time, the legislation itself is not yet law. The senators involved with crafting this bill said they intend to “forward a bill that will address concerns raised by OSHA”.
However, the legislative process has an “open-ended end” and no effective regulatory body until the legislative process is finished. The congressional process, by contrast, has an end point, which enables OSHA to act quickly and effectively if it gets the opportunity.
This means that legislation approving COVID-19 does not guarantee any substantial result for the workers or the environment. The draft, as best we can tell, only provides the label “serious impact”.
The bill proposing COVID-19 would require most employers in construction, general and technical trade unions, and associations representing these unions, to provide their employees with an oral vaccination before the end of the year, or face notifying an administrative court or federal agency.
The dosage to be given in the standard one dose is 94.5% of the active anti-pathogen activity of polio and hepatitis A, reported as a percentage of the available vaccine.
This position has already been abandoned by USAID-funded health worker vaccine programmes, which limit their mandated vaccine coverage to a third of that dose, since not all employees have access to these vaccines. If the mandate comes into being, COVID-19 will require all public and private employees, as well as non-government contracted workers, to receive their one dose of vaccine and to have the rest of their vaccination course arranged and paid for for them by the employer.
A March 3, 2006 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 80% of workers surveyed for the investigation had not received the vaccine in previous years, despite having received at least one dose in recent years. It also found that 27% had had their dose missed by three or more years.
It was noted that while some industries did require workers to vaccinate on their own, there was not a comprehensive national registry or master list of worker vaccination requirements in place. The report also noted that of those surveyed who got vaccinated in the past, 20% obtained their vaccination from co-workers in the same industry and yet many did not comply with this requirement.
In addition, the researchers observed that free booster vaccinations given to workers are often not provided to workers who had skipped vaccination previously. The reasons given by some workers for not having received vaccinations prior to getting coverage were:
· there was no need for the vaccine;
· the vaccine was not available;
· there was a lack of a chain of command;
· individuals were unaware of the availability and legality of preventive vaccination;
· there was no extensive systematic testing or education program available;
· there was no public education program.
Once the mandate takes effect, the workers will be sitting ducks, unable to protect themselves from a serious and potentially fatal illness with the manufacturers of the vaccine all but ignoring the bill. It does not appear that the manufacturers of the vaccine would cover the costs of administering these vaccines.
OSHA, despite its history of creating ill-advised, ineffective, harmful, expensive and harmful workplace laws and regulations, appears to have thrown up its hands in the face of a serious health threat.
This doesn’t sit well with me, as my family works in the construction industry and I worry about my children working in the construction industry in the future. However, if I am wrong, and management helps to make sure the workers are well protected, then you can be sure I will show my support.
However, if I am right and the employers and government decide to ignore the health and safety hazards on the job at the expense of working people’s lives, the time has come for unions to take a stand on behalf of workers.
[Lucia Unsworth works for the Institute for Health, Environment, Labour and Society (HILELS) at the UNSW. For more information, visit www.hiels.org.au]