ANDERSON — As the U.S. moves toward more widespread distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19, the idea of mandating it is gaining traction in some quarters.

Local business owners, however, are expressing reservations and taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to considering such measures for their employees.

“I don’t feel like it’s something ethically that I can mandate to them,” said JB Shelton, who owns Detour Salon and Style in Anderson. She added that most of her 22 employees have told her they plan to be vaccinated.

Similar to mask mandates and other COVID-related health and safety measures, attitudes toward vaccination mandates tend to fall along political lines, according to a study commissioned last fall by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Overall, 61% of the survey’s respondents said they would likely choose to get a vaccine. But Republicans (44%) and independents (58%) were considerably less likely to do so. More than 75% of Democrats (76.6%) said they would be vaccinated.

The Indiana Senate is considering a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to be immunized as a condition of employment. The bill was tabled in committee last week and faces uncertain prospects for passage.

“I think (supporters of the bill) feel like this is a matter of an employee being able to control their own health decisions in regard to whether they get the vaccination or not, and that person should not be penalized by potentially disciplinary action or losing their job because they make that decision,” said state Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its COVID-19 guidance by issuing a series of questions and answers to address mandatory vaccination policy issues. In summary, the commission held that employers can implement and enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for workers, with certain exceptions, including those with “medical disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs.”

But there are a host of other considerations that many businesses will grapple with, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and privacy concerns that may reveal themselves during prevaccination screenings.

“We’re giving everything a lot of thought with the current crisis, the pandemic and everything that goes on,” said Jason Witter, president of the White River Club, a fitness center on Scatterfield Road that was closed for two months at the height of the pandemic in 2020. “Even with the (Affordable Care) act, we’re not required to follow that because we’re so small. As far as any type of vaccination mandates, I think we’re really far from that.”

Shelton, whose salon was closed for nearly two months as the pandemic raged last spring, said she views the question of a vaccine mandate differently than that of wearing masks.

“The mask thing to me isn’t a liberty,” she said. “The mask thing is you joining forces with your community to protect everyone. I’m on board with that for responsible living. Once I start telling (employees) what they must do with their health, I feel like I’m taking responsibility for that, and that’s not something I want to be responsible for.”

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

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