Roofing contractors are among those who can receive a COVID-19 vaccine before the general public, but debates about whether employers should make the vaccine mandatory, and whether contractors want it, are ongoing.

RC has compiled information roofing contractors should know about the vaccine, such as what versions are available and whether contractors can and should legally require vaccines as a condition of employment.

Types of Vaccines and Distribution

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the vaccine is “highly effective at preventing COVID-19” and can help recipients from getting seriously ill if they do catch COVID-19. As of publication, three versions are available in the U.S. — the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The first two versions require two doses taken roughly three weeks apart, while the Johnson & Johnson version only requires one dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and Moderna vaccine are reported as being 95% effective at preventing illness from COVID, though trials were conducted before new COVID variants were detected. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is shown to be 72% effective against preventing all COVID-19 and 86% effective at preventing severe illness due to COVID.

Health experts say that those who want a vaccine should not wait to choose which vaccine they wish to receive. All of them prevent severe illness, which is the goal.

The CDC broke down Phase 1 of its distribution plan into three sub-phases. Priority was given to frontline health care workers like doctors and nurses in Phase 1a. The CDC’s guidelines recommend that non-health care essential workers, like those in the construction sector, would have the vaccine available to them in Phase 1c, scheduled to take place in the first or second quarter of 2021. In late December, the Associated General Contractors of America clarified that the CDC’s Phase 1c guidelines cover all types of construction workers regardless of project or trade.

On March 11, the Biden administration directed all states to make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1.

Construction Workers Hesitant About Vaccine

In a survey from Morning Consult released in February, only 53% of those working in the construction industry indicated they would get the vaccine if it was offered to them. This placed them among the least likely groups to receive the vaccine, with food and beverage being the lowest at 47%.

Nonetheless, industry associations are encouraging people to get the vaccine. During RC's Best of Success Conference in December, National Roofing Contractors Association CEO Reid Ribble said more people receiving the vaccine meant the country could emerge from the pandemic-induced recession sooner.

“The depth of this recession, how bad it’s going to get, is going to be determined now by the availability and distribution of the vaccine, and quite frankly, on the willingness of the American people to take the vaccine,” Ribble said.

There is an incentive to getting the vaccine outside of being protected from the virus. On March 8, the CDC released its first set of recommendations on activities people can safely partake in if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Fully vaccinated individuals can do the following:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart.
  • Visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart if everyone in the other household is at low risk for severe disease.
  • Refrain from quarantine and testing if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 after contact with someone who has COVID-19.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. As more people are vaccinated, the Biden administration is directing the CDC to provide public health guidance for people as they travel, participate in small gatherings, and go to work and houses of worship.

Vaccine Distribution: Mandatory or Voluntary?

Given this information, construction attorneys have advised that, while employers can legally require vaccines as a condition of employment, it may be more prudent for roofing contractors to make getting the vaccine voluntary.

On one hand, making it mandatory means workers are protected and are less likely to become sick and spread the virus to others. On the other hand, contractors need to consider the ramifications on retention and recruitment as workforce shortages continue to hinder the industry.

“If I was giving advice to a roofing contractor, I would probably say I would encourage it, but I don’t know that I would mandate it unless I’m consistently working in a high-risk type environment,” like hospitals or nursing homes, said Trent Cotney, CEO of Cotney Attorneys & Consultants.

As Philip Siegel of Hendrick, Phillips, Salzman & Siegel points out, roofing contractors also need to be aware of the legal difficulties of mandating vaccines. Employees may legally claim anything from a disability to sincerely held religious beliefs as reasons for not getting the vaccine. Even if these reasons aren’t presented, employees may resist.

“You may have a group of employees that approach you in a united effort to object to a mandatory vaccine policy. That concerted activity by your employees concerning the terms and conditions of employment is protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act,” said Siegel.

OSHA’s guidelines on how employers and employees can prevent the spread of COVID in the workplace say little about the vaccine, except to recommend that employers make a COVID-19 vaccine available at no cost to eligible employees. It also suggests employers not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers by requiring those who are vaccinated to follow protective measures, such as wearing a mask.

“OSHA is updating its guidance to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus and improve worker protections so businesses can operate safely and employees can stay safe and working,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick.

Regardless of whether it’s voluntary or mandatory, Cotney recommended that any workplace vaccination plan be staggered, as employees may experience temporary side effects that require additional time off and create labor shortages if not planned properly.

I Got the Vaccine, What Now?

The CDC recommends that even those who are vaccinated continue practicing COVID-19 precautions when in public or visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households, including wearing masks and remaining at least 6 feet apart.

“Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky in a written statement.

The goal is to achieve herd immunity, which the CDC defines as when a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease through vaccination or prior illness to make the disease's spread unlikely. Experts estimate around 80 to 90% of the population needs COVID immunity to achieve herd immunity.