Walt Disney World announced that they will no longer require their employees at the parks to be vaccinated after Governor DeSantis signed a bill into law that effectively prohibits private companies, government agencies, school districts, and educational institutions to require their employees or students to be vaccinated.
The law also established that companies who violate this new legislation would face significant financial fines, with small businesses (less than 100 employees) having to pay up to $10,000 per employee violation and big businesses having to pay $50,000 per employee violation. As a result of this law, Walt Disney World said that in order to be compliant with the new law, the company will stop its vaccine mandate.
Disney World adopted a vaccine mandate back in August, after negotiations with its labor unions. The Disney mandate required all employees (both unionized and non-unionized) to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to keep their jobs at the company. Although the company rescinded its vaccine mandate, Disney came out defending it with a spokesperson for the company saying that “We believe that our approach to mandatory vaccines has been the right one as we’ve continued to focus on the safety and well-being of our cast members and guests”
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Governor DeSantis has defended the law banning vaccine mandates in its state, saying that “nobody should lose their job due to heavy-handed COVID mandates and we had a responsibility to protect the livelihoods of the people of Florida”. The law passed the GOP-dominated state legislature last week, in a strict party-line vote. A similar law failed to pass the Texas legislature a few weeks ago, despite having the support of governor Greg Abbot
Christina Pushaw, Press Secretary for the governor, told El American that “we are confident that other companies in Florida will likewise follow the laws signed by Governor DeSantis”, she also added that “we hope Disney and any other company that has suspended or terminated workers due to vaccine mandates will consider re-hiring them” and she also noted that the state Health Department “has created standardized, straightforward, broad exemption forms for employees to see if any company chooses to have a vaccination policy.
DeSantis effectively bans vaccine mandates while Biden struggles at enforcing them
The decision by Disney to halt the mandate comes at a time when the federal and state governments are deeply at odds over the issue of mandatory vaccinations.
While DeSantis has effectively forced one of the state’s most emblematic employers to prevent firing employees over their vaccination status, Biden has been facing significant legal and political challenges when trying to implement his vaccine mandate throughout the country.
The president, who had previously said that he would not implement a nationwide vaccine mandate, issued an executive order requesting all businesses with more than 100 employees to request their labor force to be fully vaccinated or weekly tested for COVID-19 by January 4th.
The measure, however, has been halted after the Fifth Court of Appeals issued a temporary ban of the order after dozens of states filed lawsuits arguing that the mandate by Biden was not constitutional. The Biden administration has vowed to continue fighting in the court system for the Biden vaccine mandate, and while the lawsuits filed against the order are right now being handled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, many expect that it would be the Supreme Court that would have a final say in the matter.
The Florida law against vaccine mandates is the latest saga in the growing political fight over COVID-19. Similarly, as with mask mandates, Republican politicians generally argue against the imposition of such directives, claiming that it infringes on the personal liberties of Americans, while Democrats have argued that the mandates are a necessary tool in the fight against COVID.
President Biden reacts
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Disney World’s decision to stop the vaccine mandate for its employees responds to a “consistent step back” by Governor DeSantis regarding the pandemic. “I think the Disney piece is important to differentiate because, as they’re based in Florida – and, obviously, the governor there has consistently taken steps to — take steps backward, as it relates to fighting the pandemic, not forward. So that’s where they’re based”, said Psaki
Are vaccine mandates necessary?
Although the spirited debate over vaccine mandates has dominated part of the public debate over Coronavirus-related policies, some have argued that the Biden vaccine mandate might actually be practically unnecessary. Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that by January 4th it is very possible that the pandemic would be almost over and that COVID would be moving from a pandemic to a more endemic disease.
Currently, almost 70% of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 59% are fully vaccinated. The numbers are even higher in most at-risk populations, with 86.4% of people older than 65 having been fully vaccinated against COVID, and 71% of people between 18 and 65 have received both doses of the vaccine.
With vaccine rates already fairly high among people who are most at risk of severe complications from COVID, some might ask if implementing such measures is sound public policy. This is something that Gottlieb has already asked, with him saying that the opposition to these mandates could bleed into more general opposition of other vaccines, which could make public health policies more difficult in the future.