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As California Reopens, Some Unvaccinated People Feel Left Behind

 June 15, 2021 at 10:14 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today marks the state's official reopening occupancy restrictions inside offices, stores, restaurants, bars, and stadiums are gone. And mask requirements greatly relaxed. Californians are celebrating their rediscovered freedoms except for one group. As I tell you about people who can't get vaccines for medical reasons. Speaker 2: 00:24 Yeah, it was just poor timing. I, they, it was like, I think two weeks after I got my medication that the vaccine became available too. This is Speaker 1: 00:32 Bernice. We're not using her real name for privacy reasons because of her job. She knew she would be near the front of the line for a COVID vaccine when they became available last winter. But Bernice has multiple sclerosis. And at the time her symptoms were flaring up, pretty Speaker 2: 00:50 Comfortable being uncomfortable because I'm a runner like how much uncomfort could I deal with? I mean, I Speaker 1: 00:57 Don't know. Yeah. Are drug treatments that alleviate her symptoms, but they suppress her immune system making the vaccines far less effective. So if Bernice were to do the treatments, she couldn't take the vaccine for six months. Speaker 2: 01:11 At one point, I was like, I can't do this anymore. Like, so Speaker 1: 01:14 She got her treatment two weeks later, she was eligible to get the vaccine. But instead, now she'll be waiting until August. I mean, it wasn't Speaker 2: 01:24 Like immediately frustrating. I feel like it's more frustrating now that people are back to normal Speaker 1: 01:27 Millions of people nationwide have chronic conditions requiring immunosuppressive treatments, aids, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease are just a few examples. Also included are people who've received organ transplants and many cancer patients, UC San Diego epidemiologist, Rebecca fielding Miller says these people aren't getting enough consideration. Speaker 3: 01:51 We have not done a great job thinking about people with disability, people who are not, you know, a hundred percent able-bodied, um, throughout this entire pandemic. And so this is part of that pattern. Speaker 1: 02:06 She says, loosening mass girls in stores and workplaces put unfair burdens on people. Speaker 3: 02:12 What it means to live in a community where everybody can feel safe. Everybody can go into a target and, you know, buy a carton of ice cream and not, and not have that be a terrifying Speaker 4: 02:22 Experience. But other than those very, very rare circumstances, um, people should be getting a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Speaker 1: 02:32 Davy Smith and infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego says only people with known allergies to a vaccine ingredient should skip the shot. That means people on immunosuppressive treatments should probably still get COVID-19 vaccines, even if they won't be as protected as a healthy person. Speaker 4: 02:51 What I would say, what I do say to my patients is, yeah, I'm going to give you the vaccine, but you, you have a condition or you're taking a medication that might look, this might not work as well for you as what everybody wants it to. So you need to go out into the world and be careful. Um, the most I would do is Speaker 5: 03:06 Just, you know, do drive through, uh, that's fine. Speaker 1: 03:10 The attitude taken by Bianca Santos who takes immunosuppressive drugs after her kidney transplant, she received both doses of the modern vaccine, but knows they may not be as effective on her. So she doesn't feel the freedom, many others experience post vaccine. Speaker 5: 03:29 Um, it's very disheartening though, because you know, you see your friends all going on and stuff, and then doing activities, outdoors, eating at a restaurant as a young person, Speaker 1: 03:40 Santos says, it's depressing to look at her friends, social media accounts. As we just heard, there are some San Diego fans who have been told by their doctors to not take a COVID-19 vaccine, at least not yet, or they know the vaccines, won't give them full protection. And that means there are lying on others, their coworkers, people at the grocery store to give them protection. But our businesses offering that protection to customers and employees, Sandy McDonough specializes in employment law at Paul Plevin Sullivan in Canton, and has been talking to business owners about their obligations. I started by asking her what employers are required to do in terms of masks starting today. Here's that interview. So to start, there's been some back and forth and confusion over what employers are required to do in terms of masks. So what can you tell us about exactly what the rules are? Now? Speaker 5: 04:38 There has been some confusion because Cal OSHA has submitted a couple different versions of proposed revised emergency temporary standards, or what I will refer to as ETS. Currently, those are before the standards board who will review them on the 17th. But as of right now, the standards that were in place as, at the end of last year are still in place for employers. You've Speaker 1: 05:03 Been talking to business owners about these rules. Do they want to continue requiring masks? Speaker 5: 05:09 Well, employers are doing a good job of balancing safety in the workplace, which is an ongoing requirement regardless of the new rules. And also thinking about morale and, um, complying with the law in connection with those safety and morale. And so in some circumstances, business owners have thought that masks would still be the appropriate direction to go. And in other situations, they've determined that they can comply with the guidelines without requiring masks for the individuals who, who the rules allow that for the Speaker 1: 05:42 Responsibility, then fall on employees to speak up and ask everyone to wear masks. If a particular employee is not vaccinated, Speaker 5: 05:51 That obligation should really fall on the employer to know who is vaccinated or who hasn't provided information regarding vaccination, as they're required under the new proposed revisions to document vaccination status. And if they don't have vaccination status documented for certain employees, they should follow up and make sure that the ones who are not documented as vaccinated are following the unvaccinated employer requirements, or if they have another exception that they're following that. Is there Speaker 1: 06:21 A possibility of legal actions in the future where maybe employees are suing over being required to come to work or customers, if a business isn't requiring masks Speaker 5: 06:31 Only in the employment arena, the employer always needs to be aware of potential accommodations that individuals might need that prevent them from coming to work or prevent them from following the guidelines. And in that case, the best way to avoid potential lawsuits is to engage in the interactive process and provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer will also want to make sure to keep any medical information confidential and ensure that the employee is not subjected to what they would consider to be retaliation because the employee is unable to wear a mask Speaker 1: 07:07 About businesses that are saying only vaccinated people can come to the office. Is that a form of discrimination? Speaker 5: 07:14 Again, you would want to really analyze the particular circumstances. And in that case, has the employer taken into account medical and potentially religious concerns? Have they been engaged in the interactive process? Another consideration might be as working from home, a reasonable accommodation, or is it something that the employee may see as, as not the same as coming to work? And so there are a variety of factors that each employer needs to consider when they make rules regarding mandatory vaccinations in the office. Speaker 1: 07:44 For some of the people I spoke with for my story, they don't consider themselves disabled. They've never even had to talk about their medical conditions in the past because it wasn't a big issue in their lives, but now they're needing to disclose their medical histories to coworkers or bosses or future employers. So is this a change to how we talk about our health in the future? Speaker 5: 08:07 I'm hoping that things continue in the way they have been in that employees are not necessarily required to provide a diagnosis from a doctor, but rather the restriction. So in this case, if an employee needs an acception to masking policies, for example, that they would have a doctor's note stating that rather than describing their entire medical history. And that may not even be required if it's a, if it's a workplace, um, in the vaccine context that is not requiring vaccines for everyone. So for example, if an employee is not able to be vaccinated for medical reason, but the employer doesn't need to know why somebody is unvaccinated, then the issue will not come up. And it shouldn't be an issue among coworkers. It's really a communication between the employer, the employee, as something that the employer will keep confidential. I've Speaker 1: 08:59 Been speaking with Sandy McDonough who specializes in employment law at Paul Plevin Sullivan. And [inaudible] Sandy, thank you so much for being here. Thank you.

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While many have chosen to not get a COVID-19 vaccine, there are a few among us who desperately want to be vaccinated, but can’t due to medical issues.
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