Data watch: Which U.S. cities have COVID vaccine mandates for employees?

The 50 largest U.S cities are taking a range of approaches to employee vaccinations — in many cases, out of step with their state government’s policies.

Links to policy and press source documentation available: city dataset, policy dataset. State legislation source: National Academy for State Health Policy

October 6, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen mayors step up and lead when other levels of government faltered, whether that was on mask mandates, boosting residents’ access to COVID testing, communicating practices like social distancing, and much more.

Now, we see mayors leading again—and putting people’s health first—on the latest frontier of pandemic policy making: vaccine mandates.

As this Bloomberg Cities analysis shows, 13 of the 50 largest U.S. cities, such as Chicago, San Diego, and Washington, D.C., are requiring city employees to get vaccinated, with some exceptions allowed for medical or religious reasons. Another 15, such as Baltimore and Minneapolis, are offering employees a choice of getting vaccinated or submitting to regular COVID testing. Meanwhile, 5 more are offering employees incentives to get vaccinated, such as a $75 bonus in Phoenix or an extra week of paid vacation in Dallas.

In nearly half of these 50 largest U.S. cities, local leaders are going beyond guidance set by their state governments. Eleven of these cities are in states such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas, where local actions run counter to aggressive state bans against vaccine mandates. Another nine cities, including six in California, are operating in political environments that are more supportive of vaccine mandates—but the cities’ policies still go farther than the state’s own policies. The rest of the cities have aligned their local policies to their states’ policies.

Links policy and vaccination rate source documentation available: city dataset, policy dataset

It’s the first group of cities—where leaders are acting against the states—that are making the most headlines. In Tucson, Ariz., for example, Mayor Regina Romero last month announced a requirement that city workers get vaccinated or face a five-day suspension without pay. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich later determined that the city’s policy violates state law. After a favorable court ruling last week, city leaders decided to move ahead with the mandate.

Mayors like Romero recognize that employee mandates are among the few levers they have left to boost vaccinations and put the pandemic behind us. A survey of Tucson city workers found that about 1,000 of the city’s 4,500 employees remained unvaccinated. Getting shots in their arms would signal a safe return to work for city employees, reducing the chances they’ll transmit the virus to each other or the public while performing their duties. It would also give Tucson’s 48-percent vaccination rate a lift, and may encourage neighbors, friends, and relatives to get the shot, too.

Cities and their employees are the frontline faces of our government. These essential workers are responsible for keeping our communities clean, safe, and vibrant. Vaccination programs are proliferating across almost every sector, from our airlines to our hospitals—and there’s growing evidence that these programs are working. And it’s not just about keeping our city employees safe: The data show a strong connection between cities who have alignment with states in favor of vaccine policies and greater vaccination rates in the general population.

The more people we have vaccinated, the closer we get to a return to normalcy and a reduction in the number of our neighbors, friends, and family getting infected. Mayors need to continue centering the health of their staff and their communities. It’s benefiting us all.

Beth Blauer is the Executive Director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University.