As COVID-19 vaccination numbers rise, restrictions are lifted, and a sense of normalcy returns, employers are eager for their employees to return to the office. However, employers continue to grapple with whether to require all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work in-person.
While EEOC guidelines and the New York Human Rights Law require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who seek an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine due to a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, whether pregnant individuals are automatically entitled to an exemption remains unsettled. As with any other disability, great deference should be given to the advice of the employee’s physician.
Initially, the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials excluded pregnant individuals. While the CDC has made clear the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for all, there are recommendations in place to give pregnant individuals the choice of whether or not to receive the vaccine during pregnancy.
The National Institute of Health (“NIH”) reported the commencement of a new study including pregnant individuals in an effort to learn more about the effects and potential immune responses associated with pregnant individuals receiving the vaccine. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, M.D., stated “[t]ens of thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding people in the United States have chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccines available under emergency authorization. However, we lack robust, prospective clinical data on vaccination in these populations. The results of this study will fill gaps in our knowledge and help inform policy recommendations and personal decision-making on COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.”
Harvard Business Review released an article on July 1, 2021 entitled “How to Develop a Covid-19 Employee Vaccination Policy” specifically describing the steps Houston Methodist, a medical center comprising eight hospitals in Houston, took to develop its policy. The third step in the article recommends ensuring the policies for religious and medical exemptions are consistent with public health recommendations and state and local laws. Houston Methodist granted pregnant women deferrals since pregnant individuals were excluded from the initial group of individuals who participated in the early vaccination trials. However, the article also states the data collected since the emergency use authorization indicates the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the vaccine for pregnant women.
It is clear the question of whether employers can require their pregnant employees to receive the vaccine remains unsettled and employers are encouraged to follow the recommendations of the pregnant employee’s doctor at this time. As studies continue, it is likely more information will provide additional insight for employers to make an informed decision regarding their vaccination policies as they relate to pregnant individuals.
"Tens of thousands of pregnant and breastfeeding people in the United States have chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccines available under emergency use authorization. However, we lack robust, prospective clinical data on vaccination in these populations."