Worried about COVID-19 vaccine mandates

Last updated: Aug 11, 2021
We answer your top questions about whether COVID-19 vaccines are (or will be) required, plus how to prove your status.

Researchers agree that the COVID-19 vaccines are one of our best hopes for reaching herd immunity and ending the pandemic.

Could vaccine mandates be coming down the pike? Maybe. The decision to be vaccinated is entirely up to you. There are no federal or state of California laws that mandate COVID-19 shots or proof that you’ve had one. But for some employers and businesses, it’s a different story. You may need to prove you got the vaccine before going to a show, boarding a plane, before returning to work or maybe even keeping your job.

Things are changing rapidly. Here are some answers to your big questions:

Can my employer mandate the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. “We have a history of employers mandating other vaccines," says Dorit Reiss, PhD. She’s a professor of law at the University of California, Hastings. “Restaurants have required their workers to receive the hepatitis A vaccine. That’s because they could contaminate people through the food they touch.”

Why would employers require the shot? “Some may want to be good citizens and help with public health efforts,” says Francis J. Mootz III. He’s a professor of law at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific in Sacramento. “Others may want to protect their employees from getting sick. Or, they’re eager to let customers know that their business is a safe place to be.”  

“While employers can’t force you to get the vaccine, they can make it a condition of employment,” Mootz explains. In some cases, he says, they can fire you if you don’t comply. 

If there’s a vaccine requirement at my job, are there any exemptions? 

Maybe. In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing says this: Employers can require the COVID-19 shot. But they can’t discriminate against or harass workers on the basis of a protected characteristic. Those include race, gender, disability, and religious beliefs. 

In such a situation, “Your boss might have to let you work remotely or provide extra protection to wear,” says Reiss. “Or they might require you to get tested for COVID-19 every couple of weeks.” 

If you want an exemption, you’ll have to work out a plan with your boss. 

Will schools require vaccines for attendance? 

It’s possible a COVID-19 shot could be added to the list in the future. But so far, only the shot from Pfizer is authorized for emergency use in children 12 and older. Studies on younger children are still ongoing.

Here in California, there was a measles outbreak a few years ago. It affected several unvaccinated children. “Vaccinating children isn’t just a personal issue,” says Mootz. “It’s an important public health issue.” 

Keeping campus communities safe is a big concern for colleges, too. Some schools around the country have required COVID-19 shots for returning students this fall. University of California (UC) campuses are requiring faculty and staff to be vaccinated. They may opt-out in writing for medical or religious reasons. UC students are being “strongly encouraged” to get the shot.  

If you have a student heading back to campus, keep a close eye on the university’s website for guidance. Things are changing often. 
Get the latest on COVID-19 and kids with our parents’guide. 

What are immunity passports, and is there one in the U.S.? 

To enter some countries, you may need to prove your vaccination status. One way to do that will be through a certificate, sometimes called a “vaccine passport.” That’s a paper or digital document showing you’ve been fully vaccinated. 

The United States doesn’t have one. But other countries are exploring or testing the idea. In the meantime, the International Airline Travel Association is developing the Travel Pass app. You can use it to store all your COVID-19–related travel documents.

 Find out more here.  

Will businesses require proof of vaccination from customers?

Possibly. California fully opened the economy on June 15, 2021. As part of that, businesses such as sports stadiums, movie theaters, and restaurants may ask for proof. This will help keep their employees and customers safe.   

“Businesses may already require mask-wearing or even take your temperature before letting you in,” says Mootz. “Requiring proof of vaccination would be similar.”

Exactly what proof might be needed isn’t quite clear yet. Private companies like Microsoft and IBM are also working on them. The state has created a digital vaccine record that you can share electronically. Otherwise, make sure you take a photo of your vaccine card you received with your shot. 

For now, be sure to check with venues and stay up-to-date on the latest by checking with the California Department of Public Health.  
All Californians ages 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. To learn how to schedule your appointment, visit My Turn. 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. To limit the spread of COVID-19, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked per CDC guidelines. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the WHO, their local public health department, and our COVID-19 member site.

Ready to schedule an appointment for a vaccine?

Sign up on My Turn

Related articles

What we know about long-term COVID-19 right now

Here’s what scientists have learned so far about the most common lingering effects and how to manage them.

Removing barriers to getting a COVID-19 vaccine

We are working hard with the state to make the vaccines available to everyone.

Why older adults shouldn’t wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Getting vaccinated will help protect you from getting the virus.

Addressing COVID-19 concerns in Pacific Islander communities

We answer common questions those in Pacific Islander communities may have.

Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Indigenous peoples of America communities

We answer common questions those in Indigenous peoples of America communities may have.

Your simple guide to COVID-19 testing

Discover the differences between the two types of diagnostic COVID-19 tests and learn which one may be best for you.

Concerned? Get the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines

We have answers to common questions about the vaccines.

Your 5-step plan to stay safe with diabetes

Now’s the time to double down on good blood sugar control. But that’s not your only safety measure.

Overcoming needle fears

Does the thought of getting a shot make you want to skip it altogether? Learn how to cope with your anxiety like a pro so you can get the care you need.

6 groups of people who are at higher risk for COVID-19

If you’re an older adult or have underlying conditions, it’s hard not to worry about COVID-19. But knowing the details can help you stay healthy.

Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Asian communities

We answer common questions those in Asian communities may have.

COVID-19 concerns in Black communities

Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Black communities

We answer common questions those in Black communities may have.

Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Hispanic/Latino communities

We answer common questions those in Hispanic/Latino communities may have.

What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines for teens

Some teens 16 and up are eligible to get the vaccine now.

What to know if you have an ongoing health condition

The vaccines are highly recommended for people with chronic illnesses.

6 great reasons to get the COVID-19 shot

Here’s a look at some of the good things that will happen once you’re vaccinated.

How do the 3 new COVID-19 vaccines work?

These shots are the first of their kind, and they’re true medical breakthroughs. Here’s a closer look at the science behind how they were developed.

The high-risk people who need the COVID-19 vaccine most

If you’re living with lung disease, hypertension, or diabetes, getting the coronavirus shot is especially important.

Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines available now

Learn how the three approved shots stack up and find out why all of them can help keep you safe.

Get to know your treatment options for COVID-19

Learn about the latest treatments available for adults and children with mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19.

What does herd immunity from COVID-19 look like?

Learn how getting vaccinated can help us reach herd immunity safely — and get back to living a normal life faster.

A parent’s guide to the COVID-19 vaccine

What you need to know to help protect your child from COVID-19.

5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Asian communities

Here are five updates for those in Asian communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.

5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Black communities

Here are five updates for those in Black communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.

5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Hispanic/Latino communities

Here are five updates for those in Hispanic/Latino communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.

5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Indigenous peoples of America

Here are five updates for those in Indigenous peoples of America about the COVID-19 vaccine.

5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Pacific Islander communities

Here are five updates for those in Pacific Islander communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.

What everyone with diabetes should know about the COVID-19 vaccines

How long will you wait for a shot? What are the side effects like? Here’s the essential info you need.

Heart disease and COVID-19: Your 5-step plan to help you stay healthy

Now that the coronavirus has your attention, here’s how to help protect yourself.

Protect your community: Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Getting vaccinated can help stop the COVID-19 spread in Black communities, which have infection rates three times that of White communities.

Protect your community: Meet Dr. Erica Pan

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help stop the spread in at-risk Asian communities.

Protect your community: Meet Virginia Hedrick

Vaccines are important to protecting the health of California’s at-risk Indigenous peoples of America communities.

Protect your community: Meet Dolores Huerta

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can help stop the spread of the virus in California’s Hispanic/Latino communities.

Protect your community: Meet Dr. Kawika Liu

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a crucial step for helping to protect Pacific Islander communities.

The future of COVID-19 vaccine research

Here’s what scientists know now about the virus— and what they hope to know soon.