Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari says 82% of his organization’s 1,100+ employees have gotten vaccinated against coronavirus. Now he says that, by the end of August, the other 18% need to get their shots or get out. Kashkari says Fed employees cannot fulfill the central bank’s role as critical infrastructure to our nation’s economy with everyone working 100% remotely:
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were able to quickly move more than 90 percent of our staff to remote work in order to keep them safe and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak from disrupting our operations. Despite this major, unexpected shift in how we work, we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to meet our basic operating requirements during the past 16 months.
But we also know that we are losing something by being almost fully remote. Our work requires close collaboration among staff. It requires brainstorming to identify and overcome challenges. It requires debate among colleagues, which is built on trust that takes time to develop and must be nurtured. Simply put, while we will enjoy more flexibility in where we work going forward, we are not going to be a fully remote institution. In order to fulfill our public-service mission, we need more face-to-face contact than remote work allows, but there is no way for us to bring a critical mass of our staff back into our facilities and maintain social distancing. Hence, we need our employees to be vaccinated [Neel Kashkari, “Health and Safety First: Why a Vaccine Requirement Makes Sense for the Minneapolis Fed,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 2021.07.07].
Bringing everyone back the office safely requires darn near everyone to get their shots:
Even with our current high level of vaccinations, bringing everyone back into the office could put our staff at unnecessary risk. First, unvaccinated employees could infect other unvaccinated employees while at work; outbreaks continue to happen worldwide, largely among those who are unvaccinated. Second, some employees cannot be vaccinated due to health conditions. Those who can receive a vaccine but choose not to put these employees at unnecessary risk. Finally, some vaccinated staff have expressed concern about getting infected by an unvaccinated colleague and then passing it on to a family member who cannot be vaccinated. While there remains a lot that experts don’t know about COVID-19, the science is clear that everyone’s safety is enhanced the closer we can get our vaccination rate to 100 percent [Kashkari, 2021.07.07].
The Minneapolis Fed will allow exceptions from the vaccine requirement for employees with “sincerely held religious beliefs” or medical conditions that preclude vaccination.