Vaccine should be a choice for essential workers, Sen. Blackburn says

October 28, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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Sen. Marsha Blackburn says that if essential workers were asked to risk their health before fully knowing the dangers of COVID-19 then those same workers should be able to choose if the vaccine is right for them.

Earlier this week, the Tennessee Republican introduced the Keeping Our COVID-19 Heroes Employed Act, which would exempt essential workers from vaccine mandates. The bill defines an essential worker as anyone who government bodies deemed “essential” or was exempt from any restrictions during the response to the pandemic. The term varies some by state and local governments, but generally it would cover such occupations as healthcare workers, law enforcement and truck drivers.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, Blackburn hosted a virtual news conference to further explain the bill. Supporting senators and representatives of frontline workers, including OOIDA President Todd Spencer, were in attendance.

“If you were deemed an essential employee during the pandemic … You showed up. You did your job. You kept this country running … you would be exempt from the federal vaccine mandate,” Blackburn said.

OOIDA’s take

OOIDA, which has more than 150,000 members, was started in 1973 to represent the rights of small-business truckers. Spencer said truck drivers have kept the nation moving throughout the pandemic.

“Our folks came through big time to meet the needs of America, to provide all of life’s essentials, and too often they did that in sacrifice of themselves,” Spencer said. “They struggled to find places to stop, to eat, to use bathroom facilities, or to find needed rest. And, ironically, truckers as a group have been subjected to probably more regulations of dubious merit that often create no benefit or a negative benefit.”

Spencer said COVID-19 is a real issue and a serious issue, but the vaccination should be a personal choice and truckers shouldn’t be subjected to another mandate.

Large fleets suffer from a driver turnover rate of 90% or more. Some truckers have said they will leave the industry if they are forced to get the vaccine.

“Most of the professional truckers we represent have been in the industry for decades,” Spencer said. “They have learned to adapt to virtually everything, but when it comes to an issue like this that is so foreign to them, their initial response is perhaps that it’s time to look toward retirement. And we’ve seen a lot do that.

“This is not something we’d like to see or, for that matter, is in the interest of the country right now. They have concerns. They’ve lived through a lot. They believe they rely on their judgment, and that should be a choice that they make – not the government.”

Vaccine rules

In September, President Joe Biden announced sweeping COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The measures included a vaccine mandate for all federal workers and contractors, as well as requirements that companies with 100 or more employees mandate the vaccine or regular testing. Guidance for the federal contractor rule was issued in late September. The rule is set to take effect Dec. 8.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to release the 100 or more employee rule soon. Although the specifics of the rule have not been released, it does appear there will be a testing option available for those who do not want to receive the vaccine. Most small-business truckers are not expected to fall under the rule. The OOIDA Foundation says 96% of motor carriers have no more than 25 drivers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 737,000 COVID-19 deaths and 45.5 million cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 78% of Americans age 12 or older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. LL

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.