Staff members at a Houston-area hospital planned to walk out on Monday night to protest a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
The hospital, Houston Methodist, had told employees that they had to be vaccinated by Monday. Last month, 117 Houston Methodist employees filed a lawsuit against their employer over the vaccine policy.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends health care workers get a flu shot, and some hospital systems require it, few companies have required Covid-19 shots, despite federal government guidance that says employers can mandate vaccines for on-site workers.
Executives, lawyers and consultants who advise companies say that many of them remain hesitant because of a long list of legal considerations the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says must be followed before mandating vaccinations. Some companies say they are wary of setting mandates until the vaccines have received full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, which so far has granted emergency use authorization.
Jennifer Bridges, a nurse who is leading the Houston Methodist walkout, has cited the lack of full F.D.A. approval for the shots as a reason she won’t get vaccinated.
The workers’ lawsuit accuses the hospital of “forcing its employees to be human ‘guinea pigs’ as a condition for continued employment.”
In a statement, Houston Methodist said that by Monday nearly 100 percent of its 26,000 employees had complied with the vaccine policy. The hospital said it was aware that some employees who had not met the vaccine requirements planned to walk out on Monday, and that they had invited other employees to join them.
“We fully support the right of our employees to peacefully gather on their own time, but it is unacceptable to even suggest they abandon their patients to participate in this activity,” the hospital said. “We have faith that our employees will continue putting our patients first. It is unfortunate that today’s milestone of Houston Methodist becoming the safest hospital system in the country is being overshadowed by a few disgruntled employees.”
On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed a law prohibiting businesses or government entities in the state from requiring vaccine passports, or digital proof of vaccination, joining states such as Florida and Arkansas. It’s unclear how or if the new law will affect employer mandates like Houston Methodist’s.
In some industries, including aviation, employers are taking a middle-ground approach. Delta Air Lines, which is distributing vaccines out of its flight museum in Atlanta, said in May that it would strongly encourage current employees to get vaccinated and require it for new hires.
United Airlines, after considering a blanket mandate, said last week that it would require anyone hired in the United States after June 15 to provide proof of vaccination no later than a week after starting. Exceptions may be made for those who have medical or religious reasons for not getting vaccinated, the company added.
Amid criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus during one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said in a nationwide address on Monday that the federal government would play a bigger role procuring vaccines on behalf of states. It’s a process that had been mired in confusion because of squabbling between the central and state governments and a lack of vaccine supply.
Mr. Modi said that his government would increase both the pace of inoculations and the purchasing of vaccines. Less than 4 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
“The government of India will procure 75 percent stock from vaccine manufacturers and provide it to states,” he said. “That means, no state governments will have to spend anything on vaccines.”
Many Indian states had earlier vowed to vaccinate their populations for free, particularly those ruled by parties in opposition to Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, but they were forced to close vaccination centers after they ran out of supplies, a problem plaguing the entire country as infections continue to spread. Mr. Modi also announced free inoculations for all Indians above the age of 18, a policy that was earlier reserved for frontline workers and people above the age of 45.
The prime minister and his government have come under heavy criticism over their handling of the pandemic. Mr. Modi and members of his party appeared at political rallies and allowed mass gatherings to take place before the country experienced a devastating second wave of the pandemic.
Mr. Modi has kept a relatively low profile since his political rallies in April, in contrast with his frequent live addresses during the first wave of the pandemic last year, when he announced a nationwide lockdown four hours before it took effect.
Last week, the country’s top court asked the government to explain how it planned to achieve its own target of inoculating about 900 million adults by the end of the year. It also called out the government for allowing private health facilities to charge people under 45 for vaccinations, calling the policy “arbitrary and irrational.”
Mr. Modi said in his address that private hospitals will still be allowed to procure 25 percent stock of the vaccines. State governments were required to ensure that only 150 rupees or a little more than $2 could be levied as a “service charge” over and above the usual price, he said.
On Monday, India’s health ministry reported more than 100,000 new cases and 2,427 deaths. Though the number is high, it was lower than it was in May when the country was reporting more than 400,000 cases a day. India’s official numbers are believed to be a vast undercount, especially at a time when the virus is spreading to rural areas where testing is limited.
“We are seeing how every single dose of vaccines is so important,” Mr. Modi said. “A life is attached to each dose.”
Extending the government’s assistance program for poor households beyond the months of May and June, Mr. Modi announced free distribution of food to over 800 million households every month until November. “The aim of this effort is to make sure no countrymen or their families are forced to go to bed hungry,” he said.
Mr. Modi also took aim at his opposition, who he blamed for “political mudslinging.”
“It is the responsibility of every government, every public representative, to ensure that vaccinations are done with full discipline, that we are able to reach every citizen, as per the availability of vaccines,” he said.
Experts are concerned that states across the U.S. South, where vaccination rates are lagging, could face a surge in coronavirus cases over the summer.
A dozen states — many of them in the Northeast, including Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut — have already reached a benchmark of at least 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose, a goal President Biden has set for the nation to make by July 4. But in the South, that marker is nowhere in sight for several states.
In 15 states — including Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana — about half of adults or fewer have received a dose, according to a New York Times analysis last week. In two states, Alabama and Mississippi, it would take about a year to get one dose to 70 percent of…