Workplace vaccine mandates, such as President Biden's requirement for federal employees and his directive for large businesses, are a powerful tool for protecting public health and worker safety. They are also effective, good for the economy and widely supported.

Mandates motivate people to behave like their peers. Historically, vaccine mandates have helped achieve high immunization rates and have prevented disease transmission in schools and health care facilities. In a recent national survey, 31 percent of unvaccinated respondents said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if their employer required it for employment. Public- and private-sector examples suggest that employers’ vaccine requirements are working.

The vaccination rate in Washington state increased about 20 percent in the month after Gov. Jay Inslee announced requirements for state employees, school staff and health care workers. New York state's requirement for hospital and nursing home staff resulted in an increase in vaccinated employees, from 75 percent to 92 percent in one month. The rate among active-duty troops increased 76 percent in three weeks following the administration's announcement. Ninety percent of Fox Corp. employees reported being fully vaccinated after the company implemented a vaccine or test requirement. Health care systems that implemented early vaccine mandates have retained more than 99 percent of their workforce.

High vaccination coverage is the most effective way to safely return to full economic activity. Mandates level the playing field by ensuring that employers that have already implemented requirements are not disadvantaged in the labor market. And enforcement of occupational safety practices leads to less injury and lower injury-related costs without depressing sales or employment levels.

Despite some controversy, vaccine mandates are popular. In a recent poll, 62 percent of respondents supported employer vaccination requirements. In fact, some polls show that workers would consider quitting if their employers did not mandate vaccination. Barriers to accessing vaccines — for example, transportation and language barriers — remain and must be addressed. Some argue that mandates place an unfair burden on those with limited vaccine access, such as low-income essential workers. However, the very communities that experience barriers have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are most at risk in the absence of mandates.

After months of effort to offer safe, effective, free and accessible vaccines, about one-third of U.S. adults are still not yet fully vaccinated. Mandates are an effective and necessary tool to reach those individuals and reduce the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

Jill Rosenthal is Director of Public Health Policy, Center for American Progress. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2021.