FILE - IA Tyson Foods 5-1-2020

A worker leaves the Tyson Foods plant May 1, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa.

(The Center Square) – Employers in Iowa are deciding whether to require their workers become fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

While all staff members of The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which has 1,300 member companies, have been vaccinated for COVID-19, the association “has no position as to whether Iowa companies should mandate their employees get vaccinated for COVID-19,” association president Michael Ralston told The Center Square in an email interview.

Members believe they should have the ability to mandate employees get the vaccine, with health and religious exemptions, he said.

“Private employers know their business best, and they know best what community and workforce issues might or might not call for vaccines,” Ralston said.

Iowa Restaurant Association President and CEO Jessica Dunker told The Center Square in a phone interview that while the association has been “strongly encouraging” people get vaccinated “for their well-being as well as the people around them,” it does not have a position on requiring the vaccine because the industry “is such a reflection of the diversity of thought in our culture.”

The association represents both companies that require both masking and vaccines and companies that require neither, she said.

“We just continue to be … encouraging people to take advantage of vaccination and understanding what they can and can’t ask employees to do,” Dunker said.

She said most restaurants and bars “while not requiring, are certainly encouraging” employees to get vaccinated.

“We certainly are in an industry, like many others, where you can exclude people who’ve not chosen to vaccinate from particular jobs if accommodations can’t be made, and we are happy that we have that ability,” she said.

Dunker said she has seen restaurants provide incentives to employees, such as not requiring employees in kitchen roles to mask if they are vaccinated or giving paid time off to get vaccinated.

Tyson Foods employees at U.S. office locations will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, and “all other team members” must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, “subject to ongoing discussions with locations represented by unions,” the company announced Aug. 3. Tyson spokesperson Derek Burleson said nearly 60% of Tyson's 11,000 employees in Iowa have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Iowa Public Radio reported.

Collins Aerospace spokeswoman Pam Tvrdy-Cleary told The Center Square in an emailed statement Aug. 25 that the company does not currently require employees get the vaccine. Hy-Vee Vice President of Communications Christina Gayman told The Center Square in a phone interview Aug. 26 that the company does not require employees to get the vaccine and that vaccines are available at its pharmacies.

Major health care employers in Iowa are requiring their employees get the vaccine.

UnityPoint Health announced Aug. 5 that employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. If they choose not to become vaccinated, they “will be subject to voluntary resignation or termination,” though they can request medical or religious exemption, “consistent with the health system’s practice for other required vaccines,” the news release said.

“Additionally, while pregnant team members will be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, a temporary deferral will be available,” the release said.

Hundreds of people protested vaccine mandates at UnityPoint Health’s Iowa Methodist Medical Center Aug. 19, KCCI 8 reported.

MercyOne announced Aug. 10 it will require all colleagues and medical staff at its health care ministries to get the vaccine. Staff who “are not able to be vaccinated for strongly held religious beliefs or medical reasons” may apply for an exemption, the release said.

Iowa Health Care Association president Brent Willett said Iowa nursing home employees “who are just not comfortable with being told to take a vaccine they’re still uncomfortable with” may just quit instead, increasing staffing challenges, Iowa Public Radio reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the first COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in people 16 years of age and older. The vaccine is still under emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-old children. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines continue to be given under emergency use authorizations the received from the FDA as well.