November 21, 2021

Coronavirus: Boosters open to all, lawmakers aim to restrict businesses' vaccine mandates

Article origination Indiana Public Media
Any fully vaccinated Hoosiers 18 and older can go to Our.Shot.IN.gov to register for a booster shot, as long as they are six months from their last dose of Pfizer or Moderna.  - Justin Hicks/IPB News

Any fully vaccinated Hoosiers 18 and older can go to Our.Shot.IN.gov to register for a booster shot, as long as they are six months from their last dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

Justin Hicks/IPB News

 

Indiana lawmakers announce they will come back into session before the end of November to help the governor end the state’s public health emergency. At the same time, lawmakers also intend to change how private businesses can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. And the Indiana Department of Health has announced boosters are available for all Hoosiers 18 and older.

THE DATA

Indiana reported nearly 20,000 new cases in the last week – the most reported in nearly two months. And hospitalizations have also picked up. After hovering around 1,300 for a few weeks, the most recent census stands at nearly 1,600.



IDOH added 155 new deaths to the state’s total in the last week.

THE LEGISLATION

Lawmakers consider meeting to help governor end public health emergency

Indiana lawmakers may come back into session ahead of schedule to help Gov. Eric Holcomb end the state’s public health emergency.

Holcomb said he needs three changes to state law in order to end the public health emergency, but not lose key benefits for Hoosiers: measures to keep enhanced federal benefits for food assistance and matching funds for Medicaid and allow the state to more efficiently get 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said there’s general agreement about making those changes.

“We’re having conversations about those things and whether they would be those three or maybe even potentially a little more,” Huston said.

Indiana lawmakers aim to restrict businesses' ability to mandate COVID-19 vaccine

Indiana lawmakers will come into session before the end of November to significantly change how private businesses can require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lawmakers will also require businesses to include religious and medical exemptions under COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including exemptions for pregnancy and "anticipated pregnancy."

Additionally, employers can’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines unless they allow employees to opt out and instead undergo weekly testing. And they must allow employees to opt out if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 within six months.

READ MORE: How Is Indiana Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know


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And under the proposed new law, employers cannot deny any requested religious or medical exemption – and can’t even ask further about the requests.

Legislators will also use the one-day session on a bill that will allow the governor to end the ongoing public health emergency.

GOP leaders not sold on total ban of private businesses’ COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Republican legislative leaders don’t sound ready to ban Indiana companies from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

But the issue isn’t going to be left alone in the 2022 session, either.

Even before the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine rules, many Hoosier companies required their workers to get vaccinated. And that prompted pushback from some in the legislature.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said he personally prefers to let private businesses decide.

THE HEADLINES

Indiana expands COVID-19 booster doses to all 18 and older, following CDC guidance

The Indiana Department of Health has announced boosters are available for all Hoosiers 18 and older – regardless of occupation, age or underlying health condition. The announcement follows recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Friday

Any fully vaccinated Hoosiers 18 and older can go to Our.Shot.IN.gov to register for a booster shot, as long as they are six months from their last dose of Pfizer or Moderna. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a booster shot two months after their initial dose, according to the CDC’s recommendations.



With COVID-19 vaccines available for kids, schools are making masks optional again

Some school corporations are revisiting their mask requirements after newly reported COVID-19 cases have slowed over the past two months. 

New cases have crept up in recent weeks, but school leaders say the benefits of the changes outweigh the risks – especially with vaccines available for children. 

Several schools across Indiana have already adopted mask-optional policies or plan to in the coming weeks. 

Schools across the state struggled to keep their doors open and kids in classrooms as the school year began with massive numbers of students testing positive or being forced to quarantine. Indiana has seen more student positive cases so far this school year than it did in all of the 2020-2021 school year. 

But according to state guidelines updated shortly after this school year began, schools don't have to quarantine asymptomatic close contacts if everyone is wearing a mask

AG Rokita files third lawsuit against federal vaccine rules, focused on health care workers

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed the third of his planned lawsuits against the Biden administration’s workplace vaccine-or-test rules. It focuses on an order requiring vaccinations of all health care workers at facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid. 

The Biden administration’s rule requires all eligible staff to have received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Dec. 6, and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. 

The rule applies to hospitals, hospices, federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, long-term care facilities and psychiatric residential treatment facilities. It does not apply to other health care facilities, like physician offices, that aren’t regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In a statement Tuesday, Rokita’s office said this mandate "causes grave danger to vulnerable persons" by "forcing the termination" of caregivers who aren't vaccinated. 

Of Indiana’s more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, about 72 percent have been Hoosiers 70 and older. Nearly 90 percent of breakthrough deaths are Hoosiers 65 and older.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

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