Restaurants Bear the Backlash of Anti-Vaccine Sentiment

In America, unless based on discrimination, business owners have the right to refuse service to a customer. We’ve all seen or posted the sign, “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone.” While this right has been chiefly used for the intoxicated and abusive, it clearly has no limits. Now, after recovering from a pandemic that wiped out 10% of their fellow restauranteurs, owners are faced with a difficult decision.

COVID-19 Cases on the Rise

As the Delta variant makes its way across the U.S., some operators are making the decision to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining. Some operators also require this proof for outdoor dining as well. The Right to Refuse Service sign has been replaced with, “For the Safety of Our Staff, Guests, and Community…No VAX No Service.”

Fearing a return to last summer’s tragedy, the number of restaurants requiring physical or digital proof of vaccination is on the rise. Their motivations are to keep their staff and customers safe and their business operating. Unfortunately, some customers see it as an act of discrimination.

The Anti-Vaccination Backlash

Restaurants across the nation are receiving negative reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Instagram, and other platforms because of their vaccine policies. The New York Times reported on Jill Ritchie, owner of Vegan Picnic in San Francisco. She “received hundreds of threatening messages a day, and dozens of one-star reviews” after implementing a proof of vaccination policy to eat indoors.

One review read, “Come here to be discriminated against.”

In North Carolina, Richard Gusler, owner of the Players Retreat, a sports bar in Raleigh, knew the backlash was coming even before he made the vaccine-required announcement. According to Eater, he even asked platforms how he could ready himself and respond to the imminent one-star reviews. Negative reviews, calls, and emails accusing the restaurant of discrimination poured in. Once the dust cleared, he found a community that supported his decision.

So, the question is, can we compare vaccine requirements to racial discrimination? First, I should make it clear that I come from a holistic health background. I’m firmly rooted in the body’s power to create antibodies and protect itself and others once someone has come down with the disease. Several studies back up that belief.

But that doesn’t limit a restaurant’s right to decide what is best for their patrons and employees. Isn’t that the basis of our culture and nation, the liberty to choose? Our founding fathers thought so. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

According to the law, private businesses can choose who they serve as long as they are not discriminating against race, gender, or religious affiliation. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke to Eric Feldman, professor of law and medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. He shared that restaurants are within their legal right to ask for proof of vaccination. However, he also noted that restaurants must make a “reasonable accommodation” for people who have legitimate reasons for not getting a vaccination. This would apply to people who cannot receive a vaccination due to medical reasons or religious exemption.

In the wake of the anti-vaccination review bombing, Yelp has taken down more than 4,500 reviews by people who had not visited a restaurant but were upset by their vaccine policies.

States and Cities Prohibiting and Mandating Vaccine Requirements

Some states, such as Texas and Florida, have passed laws prohibiting businesses from mandating vaccines. State legislation regarding Vaccine Passports can be found here.

Some cities require proof of vaccination to dine indoors, go to a bar, or work out at the gym. These cities include San Francisco, New York City, and New Orleans. Los Angeles is considering similar requirements. With FDA approval of the vaccine, more requirements are expected.

Unfortunately, some people are looking for a way around this requirement. U.S. border agents reported seizing hundreds of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards every night at the port of Memphis, in Tennessee. These shipments are coming from China on their way to New Orleans. As of August 13, officers have seized 3,017 fake vaccination cards from 121 shipments.

According to the FBI, using a counterfeit vaccination card is a crime, punishable with a fine and up to five years in prison.

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