South Bay government agencies won’t mandate vaccines
Resident Aurora Flores receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose in February 2021. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Unlike their counterparts in San Francisco, Santa Clara County government employees won’t be required to get COVID-19 shots any time soon.

Last month, San Francisco announced all 35,000-plus city workers will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once one is fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The city and county of San Francisco must provide a safe and healthy workplace, consistent with COVID-19 public health guidance and legal requirements, to protect its employees and the public as it reopens services and returns more employees to workplaces,” read a statement from the city’s department of human resources.

In response to inquiries from San José Spotlight, officials with Santa Clara County and its two biggest cities say there are no plans to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for public employees.

An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose shot made by Johnson & Johnson. All available vaccines are only approved for emergency use—a process that allows the use of “unapproved medical products… to prevent serious or life-threatening diseases,” according to the FDA.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have filed applications for full approval for their two-dose vaccines. Johnson & Johnson has not yet announced a submission of its application. There is no exact timeline for when the FDA might grant full approval for any of these vaccines.

San Jose spokesperson Carolina Camarena said the city is not considering requiring vaccines for city employees. The same is true of the city of Santa Clara, according to spokesperson Lon Peterson.

“We continue to work collaboratively with city staff on providing services during COVID-19 directly, digitally and through a hybrid manner,” Peterson said, adding that the city defers to the county for mandating inoculations. “They would make the decision (about requiring vaccines) and the city would align to it.”

A Santa Clara County spokesperson said the county is following state guidelines on requiring vaccines for its employees. California has no mandatory vaccine requirement at this time.

There are no plans to require teachers and other education employees in K-12 schools to get vaccinated either, according to Jonathan Mendick, spokesperson for the California Department of Education.

“Any proposed COVID-19 immunization mandate for California schools would require legislative action,” Mendick said. He reiterated that the state cannot mandate any COVID-19 vaccines because of the emergency use authorization.

“While the California Department of Education does not have the authority to mandate vaccinations for students or staff, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has and continues to encourage all youth and school staff to get the vaccine when they are eligible as an important safety measure for in-person learning,” Mendick said.

At the end of May, employment attorney Sarju Naran answered questions from San José Spotlight on what employers are allowed and not allowed to do when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked if an employer can require a worker to get a shot if they refuse to do so voluntarily, Naran explained that it’s possible, with a few exceptions.

“Specifically, if an employee has a medical condition or holds a sincerely held religious belief that prevents him/her/them from being vaccinated, the employer needs to reasonably accommodate the employee unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the business,” Naran said. “Undue hardship is difficult to establish, so businesses should consult with legal counsel before invoking that exception to the requirement to accommodate.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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