Can my employer require me to get a COVID-19 vaccine? Ask the lawyer

Q: We hope that the COVID-19 vaccines are effective and safe. What if one of the vaccines, Moderna or Pfizer, really harms someone, not just a 24 hour nausea, fever or head ache, but something worse (blindness, loss of motor function, or death) — can you sue the company?

-W.B., Lomita

Ron Sokol 

A: Before I answer, it’s important to note that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been found to be safe — to an unparalleled degree, some scientists say. While no is 100% safe, because each person’s body will react differently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says serious adverse reactions are exceedingly rare.

Now, we are a litigious society. We have well-established liability laws for unsafe products, let alone for acts of negligence that result in injury to another. With regard to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, however, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar invoked the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. This is a 2005 law that authorizes the HHS secretary to provide legal protection to companies like Moderna and Pfizer that are making or distributing critical medical supplies, unless there is “willful misconduct” by the company. The protection presently lasts until 2024.


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