Since the Covid-19 vaccine has become widely available for adults in the United States, mandates have been a contentious topic for public sector employers. Despite the federal initiative toward vaccine mandates, a new survey from our team at CivicPulse shows that fewer than 5% of local governments in the United States have implemented a vaccine mandate for their employees.
Vaccine mandates are not without controversy. New York’s municipal workers organized a protest the city’s vaccine mandate, the Florida state government imposed a $3.5 million fine on Leon county for its vaccination requirement, and Chicago’s police unions continue to dispute their state’s policies requiring vaccination.
Some efforts have been made to track vaccine protocols in larger cities, but there has been considerably less attention on how the thousands of smaller governments are approaching the issue. To understand the prevalence of vaccine mandates in local governments, our team fielded a survey of 767 government officials in September - October 2021 and asked what, if any, policy their government had toward Covid-19 vaccine requirements for its employees.
1. 4% of local governments require a Covid-19 vaccination for their employees.
Only 4% of local governments have a vaccination requirement for their employees, while the majority of governments have a policy that "encourages but does not require" vaccination. Over a quarter of local governments neither required nor encouraged its employees to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The United States has seen divergent approaches to vaccine mandates from different levels of government. In September, President Biden issued an executive order requiring all federal government employees to be vaccinated. State government approaches vary: some now require their state employees to get vaccinated, while others explicitly prohibit imposing vaccine requirements on any employees.
Fig 1: “Which best describes your local government’s policy toward COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees?”
2. Local governments with more employees are four times more likely to have a vaccine mandate than governments with few employees.
Most local governments would be considered small or medium-sized employers. Using data reported to the US Census in its survey of local governments, our team calculated that 45% of local governments had fewer than 20 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), and 75% had fewer than 100 FTEs. However, most people who work in local government are concentrated in the largest governments, with over 90% of local government employees working for the largest 25% of governments.
OSHA is currently developing a rule that will require private sector employers with 100 or more employees to implement vaccine requirements or require weekly tests for unvaccinated employees. In general, OHSA does not have authority over local government. However, 26 states have a standard policy that local government workplace safety must be at least as effective as OSHA’s regulations.
Fig 2: Local Government Vaccine Mandate Policy (by Workforce Size)
3. Some governments are considering vaccine incentives as an alternative to mandates.
Officials who responded to our survey gave a number of reasons why their governments were not immediately planning on implementing vaccine mandates. One respondent noted, “We have only 3 employees, all of whom became vaccinated by choice. Hence no municipal policy was required.” While others stated, “We would like to require, but would rather avoid any resistance or conflict”, and “We are concerned at losing key staff (especially in this job market).” More restrictive policies, like vaccine mandates, may put more pressure on an already strained local government workforce.
Some local governments are considering alternatives to mandates. One respondent wrote that their local government was giving a $500 bonus for vaccinated employees. Another respondent explained that their municipality is considering an insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees.
Very few local governments require their employees to get vaccinated, and tension surrounding the topic of mandates is common. Some governments have made moves to require vaccinations, while others are waiting for a higher regulatory body or executive order to guide their next steps. It is likely that more governments will implement vaccine requirements in the coming months, but the details of these policies have yet to be determined.