Danielle Thornton was in the school pick-up line waiting for her children when she learned she would face a life-changing choice: get the Covid-19 vaccine or lose her job of almost nine years at the bank Citigroup.
She and her husband had watched for months as bosses across the US introduced vaccine mandates, knowing the family might face this moment. Then, in the form of an email on her phone, it arrived.
“We had many, many conversations about it,” she says. “But ultimately we decided that our freedom was more important than a pay cheque.”
Danielle is one of thousands of people across America opting to lose their job rather than get the Covid-19 jabs.
They represent a small minority. Most employers that have introduced such rules – about a third of the country’s biggest companies and 15% of small businesses – say the vast majority of their staff have complied.
At Citi, which allowed medical and religious exemptions, more than 99% of staff have met the requirements for the bank’s 65,000-person US workforce. Experts say the shots are safe and the best way to prevent serious infection, but mandates – seen as key to pushing America’s 25% unvaccinated to get the jabs – face stiff resistance across the country, where many see them clashing with cherished national ideals of personal freedom and privacy. This month, the Supreme Court rejected a rule from President Joe Biden that would have required Americans at workplaces of at least 100 people to get vaccinated or mask and test weekly at their own expense.
The judges at the nation’s top court called the regulation “a significant encroachment” on the lives of millions of workers – eliminating the likelihood of national rules like those planned in countries such as Germany.
Though US courts have been more accepting of states and businesses introducing requirements on their own, public disapproval remains high. About 55% of workers support employer vaccine mandates, but more than a third remain opposed, a Gallup poll found in December.
In New York City this fall, thousands marched against state requirements for healthcare workers, teachers and government employees. The city, which has since expanded the rule to private employers, ultimately put 9,000 city workers on leave as the mandate kicked in, while hospitals across the state also shed staff.
“I don’t believe it’s the government’s place to dictate things that are between a human being and their creator,” says Donna Schmidt, who lives on Long Island and worked as a neo-natal nurse for 30 years before stopping due to the vaccine requirements.
The 52-year-old says she loved her job but objects to the vaccine for religious and personal choice reasons. She is now re-inventing herself as an activist, organising a 26,000-person strong grassroots group, New Yorkers Against Medical Mandates.