Two prominent Boston museums and one of the state’s best-known companies on Thursday joined the growing ranks of employers who will require many of their workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19, amid the quick spread of the Delta variant.
The Museum of Science said it will mandate vaccines for its roughly 650 employees and volunteers by Sept. 13, when those working from home are expected to return to the museum two or three days a week. People with a medical or religious reason for not getting vaccinated will be asked to get tested twice weekly.
“We are the Museum of Science, and we have a public leadership role,” said Tim Ritchie, president of the Boston museum. “We want other institutions to adopt this standard.”
At least one other local museum — the Boston Children’s Museum — outlined similar plans on Thursday, with a spokesperson saying it would “require all employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.”
Meanwhile TJX Companies — the Framingham-based parent company of retail stores including Marshalls and TJMaxx — said it would require office-based employees to be fully vaccinated by November. As at other large retailers including Walmart, TJX’s vaccine mandate does not extend to retail store employees. And Boston’s Acting Mayor Kim Janey laid out a requirement that all city employees — from teachers to police to parking office clerks — will need to be vaccinated by this fall or undergo regular testing.
Employers of all shapes and sizes have been wrestling with whether to mandate vaccines in recent weeks, as the Delta variant has prompted a surge of new cases here and across the country.
Local firms including HubSpot and State Street Financial have announced vaccine mandates, as have larger technology companies with large Boston-area offices such as Google and Facebook. Most area colleges and universities will also require students and staff to be vaccinated when they return this fall. Many more blue-collar and service-worker-oriented employers, however, are holding off, partly out of concern that requiring vaccines could simply worsen an already-severe labor shortage.
Ritchie said the decision at the Museum of Science had been in the works for about three weeks, and while he’s confident it’s the right thing to do, it wasn’t easy.
“I thought about it every night. ... What I’m unsure about is how it is going to affect people on our team that I care a lot about,” he said. “Even if one person has to leave the institution because they do not want to be vaccinated, that is a real injury.”
An anonymous employee survey at the institution found that about 96 percent of the staff is already fully vaccinated. Ritchie said that if an unvaccinated individual, who does not have a religious or medical exemption, decides not to get vaccinated, they may be able to permanently work from home. But if their job requires them to come to the museum, “being vaccinated would be a condition of employment, so they would effectively be choosing to not work,” he said.
Other public-facing cultural institutions are starting to roll out, or at least consider, employee vaccine mandates as well. The Boch Center, which manages the Wang and Shubert theaters, on Wednesday said it would require that all administrative staff members, ushers, security personnel, stagehands, and vendors be vaccinated, effective Sept. 14.
“We are not taking chances,” said chief executive Joe Spaulding in a press release. “We will do what is necessary to keep everyone that walks through our doors safe, and we feel that this is an important step.”
A spokesperson for the Museum of Fine Arts said it was not mandating COVID-19 vaccines for staff or visitors, while a spokesperson for the New England Aquarium said that institution reinstated a mask mandate and is “actively considering additional steps we might take to protect both our guests and staff.” A spokesperson for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ritchie said there is an “active conversation” going on about whether the Museum of Science will require its third-party vendors and contractors to be vaccinated, which would include workers at the retail store and cafe. Both the Boch Center and Museum of Science are not extending their vaccine mandates to visitors, which are the lifeblood of their businesses.
That’s intentional at the Museum of Science, Ritchie said, since next week it will open an exhibition called “Project Vaccine,” which showcases how the COVID-19 vaccines were developed and why they are both effective and safe. He wants to make sure unvaccinated individuals are not prevented from seeing it.
“There are a lot of people whose lives could be changed,” he said.