Houston Methodist Hospital was sued earlier this year by 117 unvaccinated employees. The workers claimed that the hospital’s mandatory vaccination policy violated public policy because the vaccines at issue were approved by the FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) rather than through the typical lengthier process. The workers alleged that they were being forced to serve as human guinea pigs, arguing that the hospital was making them “participate in an experimental vaccine trial as a condition for continued employment.”
The hospital took the position that health care workers needed to do everything possible to keep patients safe and that included being vaccinated. In making the vaccine mandatory, the hospital relied on what it believed to be scientific proof that the available vaccines are not only very effective, but safe.
This week the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas rejected plaintiffs’ arguments and dismissed the law suit. In doing so, the court declined to find a public policy violation associated with the mandate and cited to the FDA’s rigorous safety standards and belief that the known and potential benefits of vaccination clearly outweigh the possible risks.
Until now, the number of hospitals and health care providers mandating vaccination against COVID-19 has been fairly minimal, primarily out of concern about the EUA status of the vaccines, a legal concern which was shared by this writer. This ruling, however, appears to be pave the way for other healthcare organizations, and other employers in general, to consider mandatory vaccines as a condition of employment.
Employers considering mandating vaccines should also review the EEOC’s recent guidance on vaccines which is also discussed here, as it will be necessary to take into account employees’ rights to accommodation based on medical or religious reasons.