Netflix has become the first major studio to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its U.S. productions. The move comes after studios and Hollywood unions last week finalized an agreement that allows producers to require vaccines for the people who are potentially at highest risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 on set: actors and the crew who work most closely with them.
Netflix was particularly quick to implement the policy. More major studios are expected to follow in the coming weeks as they work out the challenging logistics of overhauling their approaches to pandemic safety on set.
Netflix’s policy covers everyone working in Zone A, which includes actors — who work maskless while cameras are rolling — and people who must regularly interact with actors or come in close proximity to them.
The zone system has been a cornerstone of pandemic-era film and TV production since last year. Those working in Zone A are subject to the most frequent COVID testing, at minimum three times a week and as frequently as daily. Zone B crew members consist of those who do not work closely with actors and who can wear masks and maintain social distancing. They’re subjected to less frequent testing.
Deadline first reported the news. A Netflix rep confirmed the new policy to IndieWire, but declined to comment further.
Netflix is planning to make very rare exemptions for Zone A vaccination requirements, including for those with medical or religious reasons.
The most recent union-studio agreement was updated last week and remains in effect through September 30. It represents an update of a pact reached between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters, and the Basic Crafts.
While Netflix is the first studio to adopt vaccination requirements following the updated agreement, there has already been a growing movement among individual productions to implement such requirements. Starz’ “Gaslit,” produced by NBCUniversal, is among those requiring Zone A vaccinations. But star Sean Penn said that doesn’t go far enough — he said he won’t go to work on the series until everyone on the production has the jab.
Under the union-studio agreement, studios are powerless to enforce vaccination demands as extensive as Penn’s. But Matt Hibberd, CEO of production testing company Kameo, said he expects the Netflix move will encourage other studios to implement their own Zone A requirements, something that’s already been under consideration at many companies.
“Studios need to adjust their protocols, evaluate the impact it will have on their future and current productions, and ultimately figure out how they’re going to implement this on the ground,” he said. “A number of folks we’ve been speaking with are actively in that process. I’m sure you’ll see others follow suit in the near future.”
In addition to testing services, Kameo’s COVID-19 management platform tracks and manages vaccination status across productions and includes a vaccine passport feature. That could be a big help to productions that have hundreds of cast and crew members, as the union-studio agreement calls for various changes based on the vaccination status: mask mandates are relaxed and vaccinated people are subjected to less frequent testing and can use antigen and pool testing, for example.
As the wide availability of the vaccine and the spread of the Delta variant has begun to reshape how Hollywood works, those factors are also changing society at large.
California officials on Monday announced that they will require health care workers and state employees to be vaccinated or undergo testing once or twice a week. Similar policies are in place for government workers in New York City.
Los Angeles County began requiring masks to be worn indoors once again last week and an increasing number of bars in LA are requiring patrons to provide proof of vaccination before entering. Some employers in the city are also requiring their office workers to be fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended that fully vaccinated people start wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates, including LA County.
In LA County, daily case counts have returned to highs not seen since February, before vaccines were widely available. A quarter of recent cases in the region are among those who are fully vaccinated, thanks to breakthrough cases of the Delta variant, though the overwhelming majority of hospitalizations and serious illnesses are among those who are unvaccinated.