Walt Disney told a number of its television shows on Friday that cast and crews will no longer need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as hospitalizations ease up.
Productions, including first responder drama 9-1-1, will no longer require workers in front of and behind the camera in risk areas of their sets to be vaccinated, people with knowledge of the matter who were not authorized to publicly agree speak.
The use of vaccination requirements was agreed by unions and producers last year as part of the so-called return-to-work agreement. About a dozen shows have been affected and other protocols, including masking and testing, 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 manufacturers always had the option to enforce the mandate.
The Burbank-based entertainment giant is among the first major studios to lift vaccination requirements for such a large number of shows in a sign of the declining risk of virus outbreaks that have caused costly production shutdowns. Some other studios are also no longer requiring vaccinations for cast and crew.
Vaccine mandates have been controversial in some Hollywood neighborhoods. Some actors have taken a strong stance against mandatory vaccination, leading to a split within SAG-AFTRA.
Union leader Fran Drescher celebrated the decision on social media on Saturday.
“We as a nation have to be very careful that fear does not become fascism,” said Drescher in one Video posted on Twitter on Saturday. “When maps have to be presented to determine whether you’re included or excluded, we’re at a tipping point of an America I no longer recognize. I have to applaud Disney for taking the position to no longer inoculate their sets.”
Drescher, who said she was vaccinated, has campaigned against the use of the vaccination mandates, although the board of the union she runs has supported their use. The union previously estimated that around 25% of productions required vaccinations.
The return-to-work agreement allowed producers to require up-to-date vaccinations against COVID-19 from workers in high-risk zones, typically where actors face the cameras without masks.
“All companies that signed the return-to-work agreement have always had the power to implement vaccination orders for productions as they see fit — or not, so long as they meet the requirements of the agreement,” SAG-AFTRA spokeswoman Pam Greenwalt said in an explanation.
The return-to-work agreement was extended last month until January 2023. The agreement includes sick pay, as well as requirements for testing, vaccinations and masks on film and TV shows.