Among the states with a booster mandate already in place is New Mexico, which just required that health care workers who were already required to be vaccinated must get a booster shot by Jan. 17. State workers and public school teachers, who must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, will also need to get booster shots to be considered fully vaccinated.
“New Mexico is doing well with boosters, better than the national average, but we still must do better,” said Dr. David Scrase, the state’s acting health secretary.
Many colleges and universities are also requiring booster shots for students, faculty and staff, including Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, Amherst, Williams, Emory and Northwestern, mostly when students are due to return to campus following the holiday break.
A survey of 200 major employers conducted by consulting firm Gartner last week found 8% of employers are changing their definition of what constitutes “fully vaccinated” and requiring workers to get booster shots. That’s a roughly one of every six of the 46% of US employers that either have a vaccine mandate in place or plan to institute one.
“This is the first time we’ve asked about booster mandates. I’m pretty sure if we asked a month ago it would have been 0%,” he said. “By the time we get to the middle of January, it’ll be a lot higher, probably 15-20% is my best guess at this point.”
Why employers could start mandating boosters
Still, when it comes to requiring boosters and not just vaccines, Kropp said companies are reluctant to get out in front of the Centers for Disease Control as to what constitutes “fully vaccinated.”
“There’s no doubt that optimum vaccination is with a booster,” he said.
But as of now the CDC says that someone who has gotten the two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered to be fully vaccinated, even without a booster shot. The agency is strongly recommending booster shots for anyone who is six months removed from their initial vaccination.
So far CDC data said that 139 million Americans ages 18 to 64 are fully vaccinated, and of that group, only 34.5 million, or 25%, have gotten a booster shot. So there are a lot of workers out there who are willing to get vaccinated who have not gotten the booster yet.
Most people who today are considered fully vaccinated are planning to get a booster shot, according to surveys by KFF, the health care think tank.
“Our poll shows there is a still some lack of awareness about boosters, unsure if it’s recommended. Many didn’t think they were eligible, or they didn’t think they needed it,” said Ashley Kirzinger, KFF’s associate director for public opinion and research. But she said news about the threat posed by Omicron is raising interest in boosters. A majority of the vaccinated who have yet to get the booster say Omnicron makes them more likely to get an additional shot, according to a survey KFF completed Monday.
Mandates could also be very effective getting those who have yet to get a booster to do so, Kirzinger said.
“For the unvaccinated, 48% say nothing will convince them to get vaccinated,” she said. “But for those who are already vaccinated, they wouldn’t have a strong negative view of vaccines. So a booster mandate could get much better compliance.”
— CNN’s Matt Egan contributed to this report.