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Concerns About Missing Work Factor Into Vaccine Hesitancy

For some workers, side effects could mean losing a day of pay or a day of leave.
Posted at 10:48 AM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 12:48:06-05

"My body was aching, my calves was aching," said health care worker Dominique Bagley. 

Potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer have been widely reported. 

"On the second dose, I thought I was fine. I got up early in the morning, went to work and then midday I realized, 'Yeah, it might I might need to slow down a bit,'" said Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Now it looks like fear of those side effects may be driving vaccine hesitancy, but not in the way you may think.

"People are worried that they may have to miss work if they get a vaccine," said Ashley Kirzinger, an associate director of public opinion and survey research with Kaiser Family Foundation.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found about one-third of those who have not yet received a vaccine fear the shot could make them miss work. And among those who say they definitely won't be vaccinated, the number climbs to 36 percent. For workers, side effects could mean losing a day of pay or a day of leave. 

"We should be rewarding them, not punishing them. Making them go to work or making them use sick leave if they have a side effect is, in a sense, punishment," said Dorit Reiss, a law professor with the University of California Hastings College of Law. 

Dorit Reiss a professor who specializes in vaccine law, says workers may have some job protection against retaliation if they do miss work for a vaccine reaction, but it's tricky.  

"They may have a good argument under the Americans Disabilities Act or under other wrongful termination provisions in their states. That's the place where you really want to talk to a lawyer in your state about the specifics," explained Reiss.

The latest COVID relief bill from Congress calls for credits for businesses that allow for sick leave related to COVID-19 immunization, but it isn't mandatory. 

"It was a voluntary tax credit, which really lacks the teeth and enforcement that's needed for our lowest-wage workers or our most vulnerable workers," said Lelaine Bigelow, the managing director with the National Partnership for Women and Families. 

However, some companies are already enacting the policy on their own. The University of Rochester, for example, is allowing a vaccine sick day for side effects after the second dose. Some larger companies with frontline workers like Target and Amazon have offered more to employees than some competitors, including pay incentives for getting the vaccine and even free Lyft rides to an appointment — but stop short of additional sick days. 

"They'll give a couple of hours here and there. But that still isn't enough for low-income workers to be able to say, 'OK, I'm going to take the time that's necessary to get vaccinated,'" said Bigelow. 

Amber Strong, Newsy. 

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