The Walt Disney Company has suspended a mandatory vaccination policy that took effect in November for employees, promising to assess the results of new state legislation affecting healthcare in Florida.
Disney employees previously received a choice in their vaccinations. That changed on November 1 when the company’s chief medical officer, Larry Watkins, directed all healthcare providers to begin administering a one-time flu vaccination at regular visits. Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Radisson hotels had previously allowed employees to choose which vaccinations they received, along with a few others.
Following the announcement of the new mandate in November, a wide-ranging response from a number of health advocacy organizations blasted the policy.
“Disney is never going to stop making money, or decide to take a stand for some ideology that only happened yesterday. But they can and should challenge misinformation and beliefs like this one,” Nancy Pratt, senior vice president of policy and initiatives at the National Vaccine Information Center, said at the time.
Now, two months later, Disney is not taking any of the health advocacy groups’ recent criticisms lying down.
In a statement to CNN, in response to the state’s HB 7013, which passed last week and amends two related pieces of Florida legislation, Disney said it had “wanted to pause this implementation until we have more information.”
“This bill shifts the responsibility of vaccination from employers to individual employees and may conflict with the mission of some of our parks,” Disney added. “The evidence shows that vaccinations work. They have helped to save millions of lives and contribute to overall health and well-being of our guests, which is what our theme parks are all about.”
The new legislation requires childcare and boarding facilities to offer boosters to parents of school-aged children by April 1, a move that Pratt argues will prevent kids from getting the potentially-deadly flu every year.
The Disney exemption, she says, would be unconstitutional.
“Crippling children, and barring workers from taking care of themselves, is a form of corporal punishment,” Pratt told CNN, suggesting that the proposal violates the Constitution’s ban on invidious discrimination. “This will be a really hard policy to enforce.”
However, legal experts say the change in legislation may not have much of an impact on legal precedent.
“I’m not sure it will affect the interpretation of Florida law very much,” said Marni Grossman, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law.
“If you ask whether all healthcare providers would be required to offer vaccinations as long as an employee wants to have them, then the answer is yes,” she told CNN. “But if you ask whether all employees will be required to have the vaccine, then you may find yourself reaching back into legal philosophy to see if one of the notions in the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment, applies.”
According to Grossman, the constitution doesn’t expressly prohibit discrimination against employees who have health insurance through their employer. But, she noted, laws passed after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination against certain protected classes, including blood donors, adoptive parents, domestic partners, and same-sex married couples. She doesn’t believe the federal 14th Amendment would conflict with the FL bill.
Beth Hansen, a spokesperson for Disney, says the company will continue to review the Florida legislation.
“What we said is we want to pause this implementation until we have more information. We’re continuing to examine the legislation,” she told CNN.
Joe Shuman, president of Autism Speaks Florida, hopes Disney takes additional action.
“We would have hoped that they would have been more proactive. They would have allowed people to choose to go without immunizations and they would have put their employees on notice,” Shuman told CNN. “But the Florida legislature passed a bill that I think is unconstitutional.”
He adds, “If they have their conscience, Disney should be able to make their own decision.”