COVID-19 Juror Vaccination Mandate Lifted in the Opioid MDL

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel


On June 23, 2021, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Aaron Polster, issued an important order on whether jurors in the upcoming Prescription Opioid multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) would be required to have received a COVID-19 vaccination.

Judge Polster had previously issued an order on June 14, 2021 mandating that to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the trial, the Court would only allow individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to serve as jurors in the upcoming bellwether trial, scheduled to begin on October 4, 2021. In response to the vaccine mandate on June 21, 2021, the pharmacy defendants filed a motion to reconsider Judge Polster’s order. In the motion, the pharmacy defendants argued that Judge Polster’s vaccination mandate would skew the eligible jury pool in ways that would likely affect the parties’ ability to pick a fair and impartial jury.

The defendants pointed out that the current data for vaccination rates in the state of Ohio, where the MDL is centralized, establishes that the statewide vaccinated population differs greatly from those unvaccinated in key geographical and demographic metrics. For example, the defendants claimed, in Ohio, 44.6% of women are vaccinated versus 38.4% of men. Additionally, the data demonstrated, 54.2% of Asian Americans living in Ohio are vaccinated, 40.9% of Caucasian Ohio residents are vaccinated and only 25.7% of African American Ohio residents have received the vaccine. The defendants further argued that if the vaccine mandate were to stay in place, the Court would be undermining the “American concept of the jury trial” which has “a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community.”

In his June 23, 2021 response to the defendants’ motion, Judge Polster acknowledged that the defendants “make good points.” Judge Polster concluded the order by adding that the court would discuss with counsel the extent to which they may inquire about vaccination status on the jury questionnaire and at voir dire at a later date.

The MDL is In re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, Case No.: 1:17-md-02804, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

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