By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK (IDN) — The rigid new restrictions imposed by New York city—currently facing a surge in the deadly Delta corona virus variant—have prompted scores of US companies to impose mandatory vaccinations on all employees, mostly returning to work after temporary lockdowns.
The mandate follows the approval on August 23 of the Pfizer vaccination by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a prolonged study of its effectiveness.
The leading businesses that have imposed mandatory vaccinations on hundreds and thousands of their employees include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, Google, Walt Disney, Amtrak, United Airlines, Capital One and McDonalds, along with nearly one million students in schools and Universities in New York city, which currently has a population of over 8.8 million people.
The new mandate comes into force on September 27, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
But one question remains unanswered: Will the United Nations, with over 3,000 employees in the city—and which has always pledged to abide by New York city guidelines—follow the mandatory vaccinations of staff and diplomats in its sprawling campus? And, more importantly, will it demand proof of vaccination?
Ian Richards, former President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) told IDN the UN needs to do what it can to keep staff and visitors safe.
“In locations where everyone has had the opportunity to get vaccinated with a recognized vaccine, there is no reason why a vaccination or negative test result should not be required. It will help get things back up and running,” he said.
“Moreover, the technology to implement this is fairly straightforward and we have seen in France that even small neighbourhood cafés are able to manage it,” Richards added.
According to a New York Times database, more than 56.5 percent of people in the US have received at least one dose of the vaccination while 48.9 percent are fully vaccinated with two shots.
As of July 2021, the US population stands at 333.2 million, the world’s third most populous nation, ranking behind China and India, with over 1.3 billion each.
in New York city alone there have been over 1.0 million cases of Covid-related illnesses and more than 33,700 deaths since the pandemic last year. The UN has not provided a pandemic breakdown of its staff or diplomats.
Following the FDA approval, US President Joe Biden was more emphatic: “if you’re a business leader, a non-profit leader, a state or local leader, who has been waiting for FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that. Require it”.
The vaccine refusal by millions of Americans is either for political, personal or medical reasons, with some describing mandatory vaccinations as “a violation of civil rights”.
Like some businesses, the UN can rely on a honor system where it will trust staffers who claim they are vaccinated. But a demand to physically produce the official vaccination card by every single employee or diplomat entering the building could well be a logistical nightmare—not counting the fact that bogus vaccination cards are now available on the internet.
A UN circular dated August 20 provides “General Information and Eligibility, along with a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)”. [FAQ: UN SYSTEM-WIDE COVID-19 VACCINATION PROGRAMME www.un.org/…/files/coronavirus_vaccinefaq.pdf]
The UN has requested Member States to include UN personnel in their respective national/host country COVID-19 vaccination programmes. While confirming the inclusion of UN personnel within their national planning, most Member States have advised that they will be providing the vaccine free of charge.
The vaccine may also be available and accessed through a primary care provider, and in many cases that cost will be covered by medical insurance. In countries where there is no national programme in place, or in which UN personnel are not included in the national distribution programme, the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS) has been tasked by the Secretary-General to identify alternative arrangements for making the vaccine available.
DOS is working to ensure alternative arrangements are put in place for UN personnel.
In locations where there are no national/ host country COVID-19 vaccination programmes, and where UN personnel may not have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, the UN, through the Department of Operational Support (DOS), is working to ensure alternative arrangements are put in place for such personnel through a UN System-wide COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.
The UN System-wide COVID-19 Vaccination Programme lists the categories of individuals—who are serving and/or residing in the duty stations in which the UN System-wide COVID-19 Vaccination Programme will be carried out.
Meanwhile, in a letter released August 13, Secretary-General António Guterres says the Delta variant “is posing some challenges to our planning, and we will be taking additional precautionary measures to ensure a safe work environment for our personnel and delegates.“
The UN will continue to follow all restrictions imposed by New York, the host city for the world body. Conforming to city guidelines, the UN is expected to insist on proof of vaccination to use several of the dining facilities in the Secretariat building and also mandatory in-house mask-wearing.
“In order to align UNHQ’s approach to indoor dining with that of NYC’s guidance, we will soon require proof of vaccination for seated meals at cafeterias and other dining facilities on premises.,” says Guterres.
Further guidance on full return to work is being developed and will be issued in September.
To ensure adequate protection for all colleagues, all UN personnel must wear masks when indoors on premises, a rule which was effective August 13. “We will reassess this requirement as conditions warrant.”
The letter says the most significant driver of COVID19-related risk is vaccination status. Accurate information on the vaccination status of staff is therefore essential to determine risk and appropriate mitigation strategies.
In the letter, Guterres also says: “I continue to be very grateful to those staff who have been working on premises throughout the pandemic, either because their functions could not be performed remotely or when remote work would have impacted their effectiveness and efficiency,” says Guterres.
“I particularly commend those who did so when we did not have the protection of vaccination. As the presence of unvaccinated staff potentially increases the risk for other staff members, whether vaccinated or not, vaccinations will be mandated for staff performing certain tasks and/or certain occupational groups at UNHQ whose functions do not allow sufficient management of exposure.”
This mandate may be waived where a recognized medical condition prevents vaccination.
Those staff members who will be required to be vaccinated must receive the final dose of a vaccine no later than 19 September 2021.
Any COVID-19 vaccine that is recognized by the WHO, or under routine approved-use by a Member State’s national health authority, is accepted.
“As personnel serving in New York, we are privileged to have access to effective vaccines through local vaccination programmes. In addition to requiring certain staff to be vaccinated, I strongly encourage all personnel who have not already done so to take advantage of this opportunity to be vaccinated to promote your safety and health and all those around you.”
“The situation continues to be monitored and the possibility of additional measures announced will remain under consideration and will be reviewed and adapted as needed,” says Guterres. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 August 2021]
Photo: United Nations (UN) General Assembly hall at the UN Headquarters, New York City. CC BY-SA 2.0
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