Disputes over coronavirus vaccination mandates are multiplying in the U.S. and could markedly increase in the coming weeks as new directives take effect.
White House officials are fine-tuning President Joe Biden's order that about 80 million workers at businesses with 100 or more employees be vaccinated or get tested regularly, and that several million U.S. troops and federal government workers be inoculated by the end of the year.
While the vast majority of U.S. Navy personnel are vaccinated, naval officials have started to discharge sailors who refuse to get inoculated. Meanwhile, some large employers and state agencies with their own mandates are dismissing unvaccinated workers, even as more than 177 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated, including two-thirds of the country's adult population.
Some members of the U.S. armed forces have started posting videos in which they identify themselves and describe their careers and where they have been stationed. They also say they face expulsion for refusing vaccinations, often claiming that the freedom to control their own health care is being violated.
U.S. service members face varying vaccination deadlines through the end of the year, depending on the military branch. More than 2 million federal civilian workers must be inoculated by November 22.
But 10 government employees, including four Air Force officers and a Secret Service agent, are contesting the orders in a lawsuit filed in Washington, claiming the mandates violate their constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and are prohibited by federal laws.
The legality of the vaccination mandates has yet to be considered by the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court as a whole.
But two ideologically disparate justices, conservative Amy Coney Barrett and liberal Stephen Breyer, acting on emergency requests by vaccination opponents to overturn the orders, quickly rejected their pleas and allowed the mandates to take effect. One required that students at Indiana University be vaccinated before they enroll at the school. The other required that health care workers in Maine get shots.
The disputes over mandates have become a daily staple of U.S. news reports.
This week, Nick Rolovich, the head football coach at Washington State University, became perhaps the highest-paid person in the country to lose his job in a vaccination dispute.
He was fired from his $3.2 million-a-year position after refusing to get vaccinated under an edict that all Washington state employees get inoculated. He declined to say why he refused to get vaccinated and now is suing to get his job back on the ground of religious freedom.
In San Francisco, fast-food restaurant In-N-Out Burger was temporarily shut down by the California city's health department for COVID-19 violations because the company refused to check customers for proof of vaccination.
"Vaccination is particularly important in a public indoor setting where groups of people are gathering and removing their masks, factors that make it easier for the virus to spread," the health department said. "That is why San Francisco requires proof of vaccination for indoor dining."
In-N-Out has since reopened, but only for takeout. The restaurant chain acknowledged the health code violation, but one of its executives called the regulation "intrusive, improper and offensive" governmental "overreach."
'We will turn the tide'
Biden, in announcing the mandate last month for 80 million workers to get vaccinated, said, "We can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19."
"These measures will take time," he said. "But if we implement these measures, I believe that in the months ahead we can reduce the number of unvaccinated [individuals], decrease hospitalizations and deaths, and keep businesses open. We will protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers."
But numerous business group officials and vaccination opponents hoping to shape the rules to their liking are requesting meetings with White House officials.
Conservative Republican state governors have also vowed to sue the Biden administration to block his mandates once the White House issues its definitive rules, even as government health officials continually urge the country's 65 million unvaccinated people eligible for inoculations to get the shots in their arms.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, two possible Biden opponents in the 2024 presidential election, remain adamantly opposed to vaccination mandates even as they urge their states' residents to voluntarily get vaccinated.
DeSantis said recently, "Let's not have Biden come in and effectively take away — threaten to take away — the jobs of people who have been working hard throughout this entire pandemic. I am offended that a police officer could potentially lose their job."
DeSantis said that vaccination should be a personal choice and that people who have become naturally immune to COVID-19 should be exempt from the mandate.
Abbott said, "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced."
Even so, Texas-based American Airlines, the biggest U.S. airline, told its 100,000 workers October 6 that they would be fired if they were unable to provide proof of full vaccination by November 24.