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More than half of Americans favor vaccine mandates at work, poll finds

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Growing number of companies require COVID vaccine for new hires 01:58

Half of U.S. workers support vaccine requirements at their workplaces, according to a new poll. The findings come as more employers issue such mandates following the federal government's full approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that about 59% of remote workers favor vaccine requirements in their own workplaces, compared with 47% of those who are currently working in person. About one-quarter of workers — in person and remote — are opposed.

The sentiment is similar for workplace mask mandates, with 50% of Americans working in person favoring them and 29% opposed, while 59% of remote workers are in favor.

About 6 in 10 college graduates, who are more likely to have jobs that can be done remotely, support both mask and vaccine mandates at their workplaces, compared with about 4 in 10 workers without college degrees.

Christopher Messick, an electrical engineer who is mostly working from home in Brunswick, Maryland, said he wrote to his company's human resources department to ask that employees be required to get vaccinated before they are recalled to the office.

Messick, who is vaccinated, said he doesn't just worry about his own health, he worries about getting a breakthrough infection that could land an unvaccinated co-worker in the hospital.

"I don't want to sit an office for eight hours a day with someone who is not vaccinated," said Messick, 41. "The people who are anti-vax, I see them as selfish."

So far, many vaccine requirements are coming from private companies with employees who have mostly been able to work from home during the pandemic. These businesses, including major technology companies and investment banks, have workforces that are already largely vaccinated and consider the requirement a key step toward eventually reopening offices. Goldman Sachs joined that trend Tuesday, telling employees in a memo that anyone who enters its U.S. offices must be fully vaccinated starting September 7.

In contrast, few companies that rely largely on hourly workers have imposed vaccine mandates, with executives expressing concern over losing staff at a time of acute labor shortages and turnover. Exceptions include food processing giant Tyson Foods and Walt Disney World, which reached a deal this week with its unions to require all workers at its theme park in Orlando, Florida, to be vaccinated. Disney Cruise Line will also start requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for U.S. passengers boarding ships to the Bahamas next month. It is the first time the company has issued such a mandate for ships sailing from domestic ports.

"Game changer for the workplace"

The AP-NORC poll was conducted before the FDA granted full approval of Pfizer's vaccine, which some experts and employers are hoping will persuade more people to get the shot and support mandates.

Labor attorneys expect Monday's announcement by the FDA to open the floodgates for mandates across the board.

"The FDA's approval is a real game changer for the workplace," said Jason Habinsky, an employment attorney at Haynes Boone, a Dallas, Texas-based law firm. "Employers essentially have the blessing of the federal government that the vaccine is safe and effective and approved, and an employer is no longer making a unilateral judgment call on whether or not the vaccine is effective. So this really gets employers across the finish line in terms of being comfortable mandating it in the workplace."

Major corporations including United Airlines and Google are also requiring COViD-19 vaccinations for certain workers. And Delta Air Lines this week announced that unvaccinated workers on the company's health care plan will be subject to an additional $200 monthly fee

And the focus on getting vaccinated is increasingly part of the hiring process. Job postings on requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment are up 90% from July, according to the job-search company.

"This may potentially be the start of a trend that really takes off," Indeed economist AnnElizabeth Konkel told CBSN.

Drugstore chain CVS said this week that pharmacists, nurses and other workers who have contact with patients will have to be inoculated, but the company stopped short of requiring the vaccine for other employees such as cashiers.

The AP-NORC poll showed high support for vaccine mandates among those who say they work in person in a health care setting, with 70% approving of vaccine requirements at their workplace.

Vaccine hesitancy higher in low-income and underserved communities 02:28

The poll also showed divisions along racial lines. Seventy-three percent of Black workers — who are more likely than white workers to work in frontline jobs — support mask mandates at their workplaces, compared with 59% of Hispanic workers and 42% of white workers. In addition, 53% of Black and Hispanic workers support vaccine mandates at their workplaces, as do 44% of white workers.

Despite mixed support for mandates among in-person employees, 71% of those workers said they themselves are vaccinated.

Rising frustration with the unvaccinated

Mike Rodriguez, a maintenance worker at an auto dealership in Florida, said he got the vaccine in the spring after a diabetes diagnosis gave him a sense of urgency. But he said he leans against supporting a vaccine mandate at his job and does not mind that masks are not required.

"I don't like being told what to do. Never have," said Rodriguez, 54. "I'm going to wear mine no matter what. Just like whenever I go into a store. That's my choice."

Many large retailers, grocery store chains, food manufacturers and other companies have aggressively encouraged vaccinations with bonuses, time off, information campaigns and on-site vaccination access.

Janet Haynes of Topeka, Kansas, an education consultant who works part time as a package handler at a warehouse, said she struggled in March to get an appointment, putting herself on various waiting lists before she finally got a call. Now that vaccines are widely available, Haynes said she is frustrated with people who are reluctant to get them and she would support a requirement at her warehouse, where she dodges co-workers who flout a mask rule.

"We get so hung up on democracy and freedom, but the reality is that your freedom can't exist at the expense of someone else's loss," said Haynes, adding that she recently had a breakthrough case of COVID-19 and credits the vaccine for her swift recovery. "We are not going to be free until we get vaccinated."

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