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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: When The COVID-19 Vaccine Becomes A Job Requirement

Here’s the problem with unvaccinated workers: You can’t just treat them like smokers.

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You can’t tell them to go out back on the loading dock or huddle behind the bushes somewhere. There’s no such thing as a vax break. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re unvaccinated 24/7.

That’s a problem in businesses where people have to work next to each other. And so a lot of big companies have decided to quit playing around.

Back on Thursday, both of Charlotte’s big hospital systems — Atrium Health and Novant Health — joined other hospital systems across the state in announcing that all their employees must be fully vaccinated. Most places are giving their workers until the end of October, although Novant’s deadline is even sooner — Sept. 15.

On the same day, the NFL gave unvaccinated players a direct threat: If there’s a COVID-19 outbreak that forces a game to be canceled, the team will not only forfeit the game, the players on both teams will forfeit their paychecks for that game. The league is not requiring players to get vaccinated. But if I caused my team to lose the game AND their money, I’d be putting on extra pads before I wandered out on the practice field.

Medicine and sports are different from most other jobs in that the work involves high stress and close quarters and lots of sweat and blood. It’s virus Carowinds. But every business where people work together is going to have to find some kind of comfort level with people who refuse the vaccine.

Not every unvaccinated person is a knucklehead, although Knucklehead Nation has really outdone itself this time around. There are people who have legitimate medical conditions, deep worry about side effects or a simple lack of access to the vaccine. Those of us with cars and laptops have a hard time imagining anybody who can’t get a vaccine if they want it. But those folks are out there, too.

Employers have a responsibility to, at the very least, make sure their workers have all the information they need to make a choice. And in the end, if they still turn down the vaccine… Well, no company is required to employ you.

You might think that if other people are vaccinated, they shouldn’t care whether you’re vaccinated or not. That’s like saying that if I pay taxes, I shouldn’t care about whether you pay taxes or not. The health of our community — and this time, it’s the literal health of our community — depends on people occasionally going in on things together.

The line, as usual, is where one person’s actions start to harm another. An unvaccinated employee is putting other workers — and customers — at risk. A lot of companies don’t want you coming in when you have a cold. What do you think they’d say about somebody potentially coming to work with a deadly virus?

Those are grownup rules for grownup times. We need to get information and access to the people who still want it. As for the diehard anti-vaxxers… I’m not sure even the smokers will save them a spot.