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Navigating the Minefield of Vaccine Policy

By Tom de Kay

Art Caplan on how to navigate vaccination policies.

Vaccination policies can be a legal and ethical minefield for business leaders. In the video below, Art Caplan, one of the country’s top bioethicists, speaks with Ken Banta about how to navigate the problem.

Art, the founding director of NYU Langone’s Division of Medical Ethics, talks about several big issues that CEOs, GCs, and other top leaders need to worry about. These include a company’s obligation to ensure its workforce is safe to be around, and the liability risks that may come with mandating a vaccine that has only emergency-use authorization.

He doesn’t favor vaccine mandates — or at least, he’s “not there yet” — but he does argue for aggressive outreach:

Beat down misguided beliefs, misperceptions, [with] education — and broad education, by the way: People learn a lot of what they think about health issues from their cousin's friend’s nurse, who once heard something. So I’d bring anybody into these educational formats who’ll show up.

Secondly, ask [employees] to stop the social media stuff for now, because that really is devisive. You can't censor them, but try and make a request — “We hear your concerns, we want to make sure everything's accurate and get good information out there.”

That said, leaders can steer behavior with more than just communication. Even if the kind of “strong mandate” that employers routinely use in other situations (“do it or you get fired”) is off the table, there’s always the power of the “weak mandate.”

Let's say somebody says, “I'm claiming a religious exemption,” the company [might] say, “Good, get a letter from your religious leader and prove it.” Similarly, if somebody says, “I have a health reason,” then show me a doctor's note, [or] a notarized doctor's note. We’ve been through this with mandates a lot for other vaccines. You can make it hard to exempt [yourself], without getting into a, “We're gonna fire you” situation.

Ken Banta is founder and principal of The Vanguard Network, which convenes C-Suite discussions around high-performance leadership, and advises top executives on leadership.

Art Caplan is the founding director of NYU Langone’s Division of Medical Ethics.


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