Since the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States. Despite a relatively low vaccination rate – since only 62% of Americans are vaccinated – the health situation seemed to improve in recent months. The reopening of the American borders on November 8 bears witness to this. But the arrival of the Omicron variant changed the course of things. In recent days, the US government has recorded an average of 500,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day.
In an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, Democratic President Joe Biden is advocating for compulsory vaccination for more than 80 million employees working in companies with more than a hundred employees. This Friday, January 7, the US Supreme Court is holding an exceptional hearing in Washington to examine the issue.
Last September, the president had indeed announced that he wanted to impose a vaccination pass in companies with more than a hundred workers. But this measure quickly drew the wrath of elected Republicans, who saw it as an attack on individual freedoms and an abuse of power on the part of the federal state.
After the publication of the implementing decrees in November, which sets the deadline for employees to receive their first dose at the beginning of January or otherwise agree to submit to weekly screening, several Republican states and employers’ organizations have taken legal action. Several contradictory federal decisions have therefore postponed the application of the said measure.
Asked to decide, the Supreme Court agreed on December 22 to take up this question with heavy health and political issues. The highest American court has so far always validated vaccination obligations, whether at the university or by local authorities.
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In addition to the obligation for employees of private companies with more than 100 employees – i.e. two thirds of employees in the private sector – the Court will also examine the obligation which concerns employees of health structures who participate in the Medicare or Medicaid programs. and as such benefit from federal subsidies. The final decision should be known in a few weeks.
In an argument sent ahead of the hearing which begins at 10 a.m. local time, the Democratic government justifies the measure in the name of the health emergency in the face of the “deadliest pandemic in the country’s history” and stresses that workplaces represent major sources of contamination. Vaccination obligation “will save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over the next six months”, says the representative of the State before the Supreme Court, Elizabeth Prelogar.
If the measure is passed, companies will be checked and will have to pay fines in the event of non-compliance by their employees. According to some employers’ associations, the rule “will impose irreparable harm on thousands of companies” who will either have to finance the costs of testing reluctant employees, or face “mass departures” of their workforce. But for the government, the obligation of the vaccine in certain sectors, such as in that of health, showed that departures were low. At the hospital in Houston, Texas, only 153 employees out of 26,000 resigned because they did not want to comply with the vaccination obligation.
If the Court blocks the Democratic administration’s measure, it would represent a considerable setback for Joe Biden – already greatly weakened politically – and who has made the fight against the pandemic one of his priorities since his election a year ago.
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