A Government Accountability Office (GAO) official said today that while the Federal government could require all Federal employees to have a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to offices, it might be counterproductive to do so in a very strict way given the expectation that some of the workforce won’t want to, or be able to, receive the vaccine.

In that case, said Tim Persons, Chief Scientist and Managing Director of the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team at GAO, the government may want to consider an “incentives” approach that creates some exceptions to a vaccination rule.

Speaking at an event organized by Government Executive Media Group, Persons responded to an audience question about whether he foresees the government instituting a vaccine requirement for Federal workers returning to office workspaces.

“The short answer is there’s a statutory mandate – there are statutory and policy mechanisms – to make it a requirement for vaccines to come back,” he said. “That said, I think getting to herd immunity does not require everyone to be vaccinated,” he continued. “For those who may object to having a vaccination, that’s always been a personal thing.”

“I think it’s likely going to be counterproductive if it’s mandated in a very strict way that you have to have, for example, an ID card or something like a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) card to come back in,” Persons said.

“I think agencies could do it, but I think thinking about maybe more of an incentives approach, I think it might be that those who are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated might still work in a remote way, and policies will countenance that,” he said. Persons added, “at the same time I don’t recommend … crafting policy by exception but work by the whole.”

“I think that we will eventually get out of this public health emergency … and we’ll be able to allow return [to offices], albeit I think with the SARS-2 virus we will likely all be having protections and masks, [and] it also will affect space and things like that,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.