Tyson Foods Inc. will require its U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated. Will others soon follow suit? 

In August 2021, the largest integrated chicken company in the country announced it will require its U.S. workforce to be vaccinated by November 2021. In a memo to the company, Tyson President and CEO Donnie King said, “It is abundantly clear that getting vaccinated is the single most effective thing we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.”

There will be an exception for religion and medical needs but the policy is clear. No vaccine, no job.

Vaccine hesitancy

The decision comes at a critical time amid both a renewed push for vaccination and the spread of the so-called Delta variant of COVID-19 in the country. As of August 4, 2021, 60.6% of all American adults were fully vaccinated. 

Many, for a host of reasons, are hesitant to take the vaccine. In March 2021, Pew Research Center polling showed 30% of Americans are either probably not or definitely not getting vaccinated. 

Precedent setting?

Under U.S. law, employers can require their employees get vaccinated, barring any conflicting disability or religious belief. Tyson, employing 141,000 globally, is the largest food company to make vaccination a pre-requisite for employment. However, others, such as Disney and Wal-Mart, are requiring vaccination for at least some of its workforce. 

We will need to see if other companies follow. The processing industry came under rare national scrutiny in 2020 as COVID-19 spread in facilities and led to publicized shutdowns. Avoiding this kind of unwanted attention and work stoppage is wise from a business standpoint. 

Moreover, protecting workers from a virulent, contagious disease is the right thing to do. If possible, COVID-19 vaccination should be provided on-site, as Tyson has done, and viewed like any other personal protective equipment used in the plant.