Walt Disney told a string of its TV shows Friday that it will no longer require cast and crews to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as hospitalizations wane.
Productions, including the first-responder drama “9-1-1,” will no longer require workers in front of and behind the camera in the most high-risk areas of their sets to be vaccinated, said people with knowledge of the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The use of vaccination mandates was agreed to by unions and producers as part of the so-called Return to Work agreement last year. About a dozen shows are affected and other protocols including masking and testing will remain in place, a person close to the matter said. Disney may still require vaccines for some productions.
Disney declined to comment. SAG-AFTRA said in a statement that producers have always had the option of whether to impose the mandate.
The Burbank-based entertainment giant is among the first major studios to remove vaccination mandates from such a large number of shows, in a sign of the declining risk of virus outbreaks that caused costly production shutdowns. Some other studios also are no longer mandating vaccinations for cast and crew.
Vaccine mandates have been controversial in some quarters of Hollywood. Some actors have strongly opposed mandatory vaccinations, sparking a rift within SAG-AFTRA.
The union’s president, Fran Drescher, celebrated the decision on social media Saturday.
“We as a nation must be very careful that fear does not turn into fascism,” Drescher said in a video posted to Twitter on Saturday. “When cards must be presented to identify whether you are included or excluded, we stand at a tipping point of an America I no longer recognize. I must applaud Disney for taking the position not to vaccine mandate their sets any longer.”
Drescher, who said she is vaccinated, has been lobbying against the use of the vaccine mandates even though the board of the union she leads has supported its use. The union previously estimated about 25% of productions required vaccinations.
The Return to Work agreement allowed producers to require workers in high-risk zones, typically where actors are without masks in front of the cameras, to have current vaccinations against COVID-19.
“All companies signatory to the Return to Work Agreement have always had the authority to choose to implement — or not implement —vaccine mandates on productions at their discretion, so long as they are in compliance with the requirements of the agreement,” SAG-AFTRA spokesperson Pam Greenwalt said in a statement.
The Return to Work agreement was extended last month until January 2023. The agreement provides sick pay as well as requirements for testing, vaccination and masking on film and TV shows.