Now, some governments and businesses in countries with ample vaccine supplies are making proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test a condition of entry or employment.
On Monday, the French parliament passed a law that will require everyone over the age of 12 to show a health pass — documentation that they either are fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus — in order to take domestic flights and trains and enter restaurants, cafes and some other public venues such as shopping centres, from September 30.
The law will also require all health care workers to start getting vaccinated by September 15 or risk suspension. This is on top of an existing health pass requirement for adults to enter museums, cinemas and stadiums.
Monday also saw California and New York City announce new requirements for state and city workers to get vaccinated or face frequent testing. In California, the mandate also extends to health care workers, while in New York City, it includes police officers and teachers.
According to US government lawyers, public agencies and private businesses can legally require Covid-19 vaccines. And in recent weeks, courts have sided with a hospital and university that have implemented vaccination requirements for their staff and students.
The requirements have sparked protests from those who believe getting vaccinated should be their personal choice. Last weekend, over 100,000 people in France marched against the health pass law. But as French president Emmanuel Macron pointed out, the decision to get vaccinated impacts everyone.
“What is your freedom worth if you say to me, ‘I don’t want to be vaccinated,’ but tomorrow you infect your father, your mother or myself?” Macron said in response to the protests, according to the Associated Press.
Widespread vaccination key to economic rebound
As a means of increasing vaccination rates, requirements appear to be extremely effective. The day after the French government announced its intention to create a health pass, daily vaccinations hit a new high of nearly 800,000, up from an average of 570,000 vaccinations a day for most of June and July, according to Reuters. And approximately 1.7 million vaccination appointments were booked in 24 hours.
This is welcome news to those in the retail industry who see widespread vaccination as the only way for normal business operations to resume.
“Our attitude is that the sooner we can get the population all vaccinated, the sooner the economy will be able to open,” Kitty Lu, national operations manager at on-demand meal delivery platform Easi, told Inside Retail.
“Especially [those] industries that are heavily dependent on overseas workers, such as ourselves and the hospitality industry more broadly, if we keep our borders closed, they’re going to struggle, that’s very obvious,” she said.
According to Lu, many Easi delivery riders, a large number of whom speak English as a second language, have been asking for help with sourcing credible vaccine information and booking vaccination appointments.
Easi has been sharing resources with its riders through push notifications and social media and is currently conducting a survey to gauge their interest in having Easi set up a group appointment to get vaccinated.
“We do not have the power to compel people to get vaccinated — that is definitely in the lap of the government — but we are trying to push it as much as possible,” Lu said.
Access, enforcement and privacy concerns
But while there may be benefits to vaccination requirements, they also raise concerns about access, enforcement and privacy.
Jacques Creyssel, the head of the French retail federation, FCD, questioned how retail workers would be able to get fully vaccinated by the September deadline, given the mandatory wait time between shots.
“We hope the law to be voted on will make clear that public authorities will be in charge of controlling access, because we cannot do this ourselves,” Creyssel said earlier this month, according to Reuters.
He also asked how retail workers would be able to stop customers without a health pass from entering a shopping centre to buy food or medicine, noting that the law “puts the onus [of enforcement] on private companies”.
Given the challenges retail workers have encountered in their efforts to enforce face masks, social distancing and purchase limits in stores over the last year and a half, which has led to a sharp increase in customer abuse, this issue cannot be overlooked.
For Kris Grant, CEO at ASPL Group, a Melbourne-based business consultancy, there could also be privacy problems with requiring employees to get vaccinated or disclose their vaccination status. Employers would need to keep that data secure and they may not be equipped to do so.
“Privacy is probably the greatest challenge when we’re talking about [vaccination requirements for] workers, particularly when they’re deemed non-essential as retail is now,” Grant told Inside Retail.
However, some industry leaders believe retail workers should be considered essential because the nature of their jobs — from serving customers in-store, to making deliveries to people’s homes — puts them at greater risk of exposure.
The SDA, the local union for retail, fast food and warehouse workers, has been calling on the government to give retail workers priority access to the Pfizer vaccine for months, and this week, Woolworths, Aldi, Coles and Metcash announced that they had secured priority access to Pfizer vaccine for workers in their supermarkets in Sydney’s Covid-19 hot spots.
Do vaccines fall under an employer’s duty of care?
The Australian government has previously stated that it will not make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory except for people working in certain industries, such as airport and quarantine workers and some aged care workers.
Businesses outside of these sectors could theoretically require staff to get vaccinated, since all employers have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace for their employees. But it’s unclear if it extends to Covid-19 vaccinations.
“Outside of government regulation, the position remains unclear,” Nick Maley, a partner on the workplace relations team at Holman Webb Lawyers, told Inside Retail, citing recent cases around flu vaccination requirements.
“The recent flu vaccination cases give guidance. They show that if an employer has adequate evidence to demonstrate a need for vaccination, an employer can direct its workers to be vaccinated,” he said.
“Showing that need will depend upon the nature of the employer’s business. There must be medical and work health and safety evidence to show vaccination is needed in that business to keep workers and customers of the business safe.”
But when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations, Maley thinks it is unlikely that employers will see “bright line guidance” that can be applied to every shop or business in Australia.
“I think we will only see directions by employers for mandatory vaccination in those types of industries where social distancing is impossible, such as health care, child care and services requiring physical contact,” he said.
“If an employer can protect their customers and staff in other ways, such as mask wearing and social distancing, that is more likely to remain the way forward.”