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Bay Area Business Leaders Back White House COVID Vaccine Mandate

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Business associations and doctors agree that the White House vaccine mandate for employers with 100 or more workers is the right step for the Bay Area to move forward from the pandemic but just days after it was announced, it is already facing challenges in the courts.

"I think that this mandate is a good step forward, I think this timeline is reasonable," said Patrick Kallerman, the vice president of research for the Bay Area Council's Economic Institute. "I do think there are still lots and lots of organizations who have not put in place requirements."

The Bay Area Council advises almost 300 members and estimates that this policy would impact more than 15,000 companies in California, which is over 60 percent of the state's workforce.

Doctors in support of the move by the Biden Administration say it will help the country get a handle on COVID-19 and make the disease manageable in the years ahead. As a virus expected to come back annually like the flu, vaccinations are a necessary step according to some medical experts.

"I think it's great news. It is very important that as many people as possible are vaccinated," said Dr. Jorge Salinas, a hospital epidemiologist at Stanford University. "It is very clear that COVID-19 is here to stay, we will always have cases of COVID-19 and COVID-19 will continue circulating throughout the world."

The White House announced on Thursday that companies of a certain size would need to require the vaccine with some accommodations for exemptions or regular testing for COVID-19. The policy would be administered by Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"It was great, obviously getting a shot is not the most pleasant experience for kids but I think they made it as smooth as possible," said Elaine Nagashima, a parent of three children now eligible to get the vaccine.

The fight against the virus expanded not only to the business mandate this week but to children ages 5 to 11 as the CDC signed off on that age group receiving a pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

"What we're doing today is a lot different because what we're doing is putting families first, we're putting children first," said San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa. "The goal here is to end COVID and that's what we're focused on acutely."

On the same day those families were receiving the vaccine by choice, a challenge to the mandate for businesses that would require them to decide between having all workers vaccinated by January 4 or keeping face masks and weekly tests.

A federal appeals court temporarily halted the policy. The move comes just days after the Biden Administration announced the mandate, giving companies 30 days to choose which option they would enforce. A Bay Area law firm announced on Thursday it would also sue the White House over this mandate, unsure if a court could intervene before the new year.

"Vaccinations save lives, the lives of the vaccinated people and the lives of the people they may infect if they're not vaccinated," Dr. Salina told KPIX 5 on Thursday. "These measures taken to vaccinate as many people as possible are the right thing to do."

Gap, Inc. announced on its website that back in September it would require proof of vaccination for employees entering its Bay Area offices with some exceptions. A representative from Wells Fargo said on Thursday it would comply with the mandate.

Advocates say while incentives are preferred but when encouraging individuals and organizations to get more people vaccinated does not work, they believe this type of policy is necessary to protect communities and achieve the economic recovery still lacking in this part of the state. Kallerman says Los Angeles and the Bay Area are not performing as well as their peer regions when it comes to job growth.

"We've tried sort of the carrot and incentive angle for months and months and we're still seeing some cases creep up there and so we need to get to the higher level of herd immunity and sometimes it takes a stick," he said on Thursday. "Our region can't get back on its feet until vaccination rates are where they need to be."

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