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Your Legal Questions Answered: COVID-19 Vaccine

Have questions about your legal rights when deciding to get the COVID-19 vaccine? If you are a NYC resident, you’ve come to the right place—this resource can help.

In late 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use. There are several resources (read this one from the CDC) that talk about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. At New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), we recommend those eligible get the vaccine to help stop the spread and save lives.

However, we believe the decision to get the vaccine is a personal choice and we want to help you understand your legal rights when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Frequently-Asked-Questions about the COVID-19 Vaccine with Answers Provided by NYLAG Attorneys

Right now, no.

The COVID-19 vaccine will be free for all, regardless of whether you have private health insurance, are uninsured, or are on Medicare. Based on the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement, “all providers must vaccinate individuals regardless of whether they have health insurance coverage or what type of coverage they have, and are prohibited from balance billing or otherwise charging vaccine recipients.” If a vaccine distribution site is asking for insurance, call the center for assistance making the appointment. You should not be turned away for not having insurance, and no site should charge you any fee.

If someone tries to charge you, asks for a credit card, social security card, or turns you away for not having insurance, if may be a scam and you should choose a different site. Please contact NYLAG’s NYC COVID- 19 Legal Resource Hotline if you encounter any of these issues.

You can also report vaccine fraud to the NYS Attorney General here or call 833-VAX-SCAM     

This is largely up to the employer and their policies. Employers may encourage or even require COVID-19 vaccinations, but policies must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and other workplace laws, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

If you have a union at your job, the employer may need to bargain and reach an agreement with the union before mandating vaccines.

It depends.

The EEOC has issued guidance that indicates that employers may lawfully require vaccinations in order to protect their workforce from possible infection.

However, employees who cannot or will not be vaccinated for medical reasons, because of a disability, or for “sincerely held” religious reasons may wish to seek a reasonable accommodation from their employer. In those cases, employers are required to engage in an interactive process with an employee who seeks such an accommodation, which includes conducting an individualized assessment of the specific request and the circumstances surrounding the request and the workplace. Aside from requesting to be exempted from the vaccine requirement, employees may also consider requesting accommodations such as teleworking. Employees should gather supporting documentation concerning their disability or other conditions supporting their accommodation request.

It is likely legal for employers to bar employees from the workplace if those employees refuse to be vaccinated but do not have a religious or medical reason for seeking an accommodation or an exemption.

Even if an employer finds that a worker who cannot be vaccinated due to disability that poses a risk to the workplace, the employer cannot simply exclude the employee from the job— or take any other adverse action on that basis— unless it can show that it is not possible to provide a requested reasonable accommodation or it would pose an undue hardship to do so.

It depends. To begin with, federal law requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA has recently issued new guidance for employers on their responsibilities with respect to protecting their workforce from COVID-19, including by implementing a workplace COVID-19 prevention program.

If your employer has not taken measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, you may want to file a complaint with OSHA.

In addition, if you are particularly at risk for complications from COVID-19 infection, because you have underlying conditions, for example, you may wish to speak with your doctor and seek an accommodation that will allow you to protect yourself. For example, if you are still able to perform your job from home, you may ask your employer to allow you to telecommute (part or full-time), adjust your schedule, or work in a less densely-occupied, better-ventilated alternate work area.

Yes. Undocumented immigrants are an important part of American communities, including here in New York. They also make up an essential share of essential and frontline works. The Biden administration has said the undocumented community should have access to the vaccine.

No. The U.S. Government has gone on record saying, “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics. Consistent with ICE’s long-standing sensitive locations policy, ICE does not and will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. DHS is committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one, regardless of their immigration status.”

As of 2/9/21, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is not requiring the vaccine as part of the mandatory civil surgeon medical examination to gain permanent status or to travel to the U.S. This may change as the vaccine becomes more widely available.

Please note that the FLU/influenza vaccine IS required. More: https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-8-part-b-chapter-9

If you live in New York City resident and would like to find out if you are eligible for the vaccine, and where to get it, click here.  Eligible individuals can also call the COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 833-697-4829 (7am-10pm. 7 days a week)

If you have specific questions and want to speak to a NYLAG representative, please call our NY COVID-19 Legal Resource Hotline.

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