On July 18, the Journal ran an opinion piece by Representative Gail Armstrong asking, “Why does (Very Large Array) force the vaccine on employees?” While I am not familiar with the reasoning used by administering the VLA, I can think of at least three reasons why the VLA might impose the safe and highly effective COVID vaccine in the midst of this pandemic, just like many schools, colleges, hospitals and employers across the country have demanded it.
First, the VLA may have acted to protect its employees. As Armstrong pointed out, protecting the health of employees is “paramount to a happy and productive workforce,” and most employers feel obligated to provide their employees with a safe work environment. As COVID begins to rise again in New Mexico and the highly transmissible and very dangerous Delta variant becomes the most common form of the disease throughout our state, one would expect employers to ask how to protect their employees from hospitalization and death from this disease. Where (about) half of New Mexicans are still unvaccinated, but 99% of severe cases are among the unvaccinated, the best way to protect employees is pretty obvious: make sure all employees are vaccinated. Nothing else is as effective as universal vaccination, which would effectively eliminate COVID. And there is only one way for an employer to substantially increase the number of people vaccinated, and that is to make vaccination mandatory. No one is required by an employer to be vaccinated – just as no one is required to adhere to office hours or company dress code – but it can and should be a condition of continued employment.
Second, the VLA may have acted to protect its legitimate business interest. It is impossible to run a productive business when key employees are ill or are in medically mandated quarantine while awaiting test results. When a disease reaches pandemic levels, it is reasonable for a company like VLA to think about how to protect itself by protecting its workforce from the decimation of the disease. The VLA simply cannot afford a virus to turn off a significant portion of its workforce. The only sure way to avoid this is to require vaccination
Third, the VLA may be concerned about the physical and economic health of the community in which it operates – Socorro County. A low vaccination rate not only increases the physical risk to county residents, but it also increases the risk to the local economy. Looking across the country, into Arkansas and Missouri, for example, and into rural areas everywhere, we see that a low vaccination rate amid a wide distribution of the Delta variant means that more and more businesses are forced by the disease to close and the entire community economy is affected. When a company like VLA needs to be able to attract good scientists from across the country, it needs to show that its employees can live in safe and vibrant communities. And if there are 60 well-paid scientists at the VLA who refuse compulsory vaccination, don’t worry – they will be replaced by another 60 who will receive the same high salaries and bring the same economic benefit to the community.
No one is saying that employers can demand that their employees receive experimental drugs. COVID vaccines are approved for “emergency use” during the pandemic, but they are hardly experimental. Over 300 million doses have been administered in the United States alone, and they have already been better studied than most other fully approved drugs. No one is arguing that those who have legitimate medical or religious reasons to avoid vaccination should be required to get them. Indeed, one of the reasons why others need to be vaccinated is to protect those who cannot be vaccinated for these reasons alone. And even those who argue that government should not require immunization of its citizens must realize that an individual employer mandate is very different from a statewide order of government. When we put our co-workers at risk, undermine our employer’s ability to do the job, and contribute to the contraction of our community’s economy, we should be held accountable.