On Monday, The US Food and Drug Administration gave formal, full approval to the Covid-19 vaccine made by the drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech. It’s possible that you have already received a dose, as millions of Americans did in the December 2020 “emergency usage authorization”. The new authorization was not just a formality. When President Joe Biden announced his approval, he said that if you were one of the many millions of Americans who had said they would not receive the shot until the FDA approved it fully and completely. In the same speech, President Joe Biden said: “If your business, non-profit, or state leader has been waiting to get full FDA approval for vaccinations, then I urge you to now do it–request it.”
A lot of people got their shots almost immediately. Although vaccines are effective and safe, around 30% of Americans still have not received their shot. The sticks are here, the carrots failed. They might even be able stop the fourth wave in America’s Covid pandemic. If they do it right.
The Pfizer vaccine is excellent at keeping people alive from Covid, just like the EUA-approved vaccines. It’s evident that the Pfizer drug is not enough to prevent Covid from getting worse. There are more than 100,000 Americans in US hospitals with Covid, the highest number since January. States, localities, and businesses have tried inducements like prizes, cash, or lotteries, little tricks designed to corral people into doing what’s good for them. This is called a “nudge” in behavioral economics. These nudges did not change the momentum in states that have low vaccination uptake. So now, it’s time for mandates. Get ready to be vaccinated if you are among the 30% of Americans still not vaccinated.
The Pentagon is the most pushy of all. The Department of Defense announced immediately that it would add Covid-19 vaccinations to its already extensive list of requirements for service members. California’s UC system had already established mandates, but more schools joined the ranks: Ohio State University, University of Michigan and University of Minnesota. City workforces in Los Angeles and Chicago came under mandate. The new governor of New York announced at her inauguration that she’d institute them, too, and New York City put them in place for public school teachers and the NYPD. The influential American Medical Association signed an open letter in late July calling for mandatory vaccines throughout health care. Even the hardcore capitalists at Goldman Sachs won’t let anyone in their offices without proof-of-shot. Three examples are all that is required to create a trend in journalism. We’re almost there, I believe.
This may sound like gibberish, but the American history of public health policy and law will prove otherwise. Vaccine mandates, and any other rule that restricts personal behavior to the benefit of society’s well-being, are extremely legal. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who reaffirmed that notion two weeks ago with a terse not-gonna-happen in response to a lawsuit brought by students at Indiana University against their school’s vaccine mandate. Barrett’s firm nope upheld an appeals court ruling that was in turn based upon Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905 Supreme Court) which gave permission for vaccinations against smallpox, and other regulations. (Most Americans support vaccine mandates, by the way. Of course they are split according to political affiliation. One study this summer suggested that if elite Republicans came out forcefully in favor of vaccines–not just a “personal choice, ask your doctor” move, but full-bore encouragement, it’d increase the number who planned to get vaccinated by as much as 7 percent.) No one has the right to be unvaccinated or unmasked in a crowd. Gostin states that Americans don’t have any freedom to spread infectious diseases to others.
Although FDA approval was not required for mandates, it is becoming sufficient. Local governments, businesses, and schools that were trying to prevent a backlash from requiring experimental vaccines feel they now have a brighter future. (This might’ve been a feint anyway; Texas governor Greg Abbott’s anti-mandate policy used to cite the EUA, and after approval it changed to specify any Covid-19 vaccine.) Lawrence Gostin from Georgetown University, who is a public health expert, says that they worried about the possibility of litigation. They also worried about employees’ perceptions. We’ll see an avalanche in universities and companies following their lead over the next few weeks, I believe.
But, what is the most important aspect of vaccine mandates? Saad Omer (director of Yale Institute for Global Health) says that vaccine mandates work. He is an expert on vaccine acceptance. The evidence is largely based on childhood vaccines. It comes from flu shots for healthcare workers. This proves that mandating is useful. You can go from 70 to 80 percent up to 90 percent or 95 percent.
All public schools in the US require children to present proof that they have been vaccinated against different illnesses. Different states allow for different opt-outs. One analysis of those requirements showed they increased overall vaccination rates by 18 percent. Flip side: Back in 2006, Omer and his colleagues showed that states where it was easier to get exemptions for kids also had higher rates of pertussis, one of the childhood diseases with a widely available vaccine. It could get worse: Australia fines parents who skip vaccinations for their children, while Uganda jails parents.
But there’s one catch. You must do it correctly. One reason is that mandate policies that are too harsh may lead to anti-vaccine protests. The problem is that not all vaccines are created equal. There are many reasons why people may not be vaccinated. Some people have philosophical or political disagreements. Some don’t believe in vaccines or are skeptical of their existence. According to a Civiqs poll, 91 percent of people who identify as Democrats have been vaccinated, as have 64 percent of Independents; only 53 percent of Republicans have. According to another Kaiser Foundation poll, 5 percent said that they would only get vaccinated if required. It’s a good thing, hey! This is it now. You are welcome!
Some people don’t get vaccinated due to forces beyond their control. Covid-19 is particularly harmful to people with lower socioeconomic status and those of color. These people are at the heart of many Venn overlaps. They’re more likely than others to suffer from the Covid infection, have less access to healthcare, have less access to good internet, and have more jobs that don’t pay sick leave. It can be difficult to think of getting your vaccinations, especially if side effects make it hard for you to go to sleep. The vaccine mandates would make certain areas unaccessible, such as Black communities.
What’s the answer? You shouldn’t. Gostin states, “You shouldn’t make someone get vaccinated if they don’t have access.” You can bring the vaccine to your workplace, campus or give paid time to receive the vaccine. This includes paying ride-shares. Access and equity must be your main focus.
These policy problems can be fixed. Goldman Sachs has the financial resources to set up an internal vaccination clinic. The federal government could make it illegal to fire someone for taking vaccine-related time off, or figure out compensation for lost wages as with jury duty–as President Biden himself has suggested. Gostin states that equity is the sole valid objection to mandates. It’s about being fair, equitable and compassionate and not demeaning people who have not been vaccinated. This is not a part of America’s social divide. Mandates and vaccinations are neutral tools in the public’s health system, they do not penalize those who haven’t been vaccinated.
Mandates can only do the job they are supposed to. They require additional policies that support them. And they work only at certain moments during an outbreak. In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October 2012, Omer and Michelle Mello of Stanford and Ross Silverman of Indiana University wrote that vaccines for Covid are only a speck in the eye of a needle. More than half of Americans stated they would not get a vaccine if one became available. It was basically this: A mandate will not work until there is enough vaccine (check), and evidence of safety has been widely communicated (kind-of-check? The government removed any financial and logistical obstacles to voluntary adoption. This varies between states and businesses. Omer states that these criteria are not being met right now for the general populace. They have been fulfilled for university students, health workers and a wide range of employers.
Equity might not pose as much of a problem, as many have feared. Although there were early indications of resistance to the vaccine, minorities are now able to take up Covid vaccines at around 60 percent. However, this varies from one region of the country. Black and white individuals have roughly the same number of people who claim they would never get the vaccine. It is around 15%. It’s closer to 11 percent for Latinx people. The opposite may be true, despite all the concern that people might quit their job if required to have vaccines. My group conducted surveys among employees and found that far more respondents said they would quit their jobs if there were no vaccine mandates. “People forget the other side of this coin. They forget that those who are safe at school and work far outnumber those who oppose it,” Gostin states. According to the study, African Americans were more likely than other Americans to say they’d quit if there wasn’t a mandate.
It’s easy to underestimate the opposition to mandates at first glance. Sure, the head of a Chicago police officers’ union issued a statement saying that the city’s mandate had “literally lit a bomb under the membership” because “we don’t want to be forced to do anything.” But loud doesn’t equal widespread. In France, the imposition of a broad vaccine mandate was met with massive protests … and 1.3 million people signing up to get their shots on the first day.
This is what United Airlines seems to be doing. In January, the CEO stated that he would mandate vaccinations for all US-based employees. He was expecting resistance. The CEO stated in January that he would mandate vaccinations for all US airlines. Delta will require vaccines but the employees have the option to pay a small fine to get out. This is basically paying for additional insurance. Josh Earnest is chief communication officer of United. “Normally, you will have people who are in agreement with you and people who disagree strongly with you.” But here is the punchline. This became apparent after the announcement. While there are a few who strongly oppose the requirement, there is also a larger group of employees that support it enthusiastically.
This was possible because United had prepared the way. United established vaccination clinics in airports that had large staff. It also distributed educational material on vaccinations. The unions representing pilots and flight attendants met with it. United will still be affected by staffing problems, as airlines already have significant issues that can disrupt flight schedules. It would be a terrible thing to lose pilots due to vaccines. Earnest states that it is too soon to know how much vaccine objection or hesitancy, and how big a group, is at United. We won’t know until September, when the deadline will come.
The internal tension that exists between vocal opponents and larger groups that support mandates, is in a sense, a different kind of equity problem. Govind Persad is a professor of health policy and law at the University of Denver. He says that people who are less fortunate or are members of minorities that are subject to discrimination are the ones most exposed to the Covid risk of mandates being removed. People often think mandates are unfair because people treat them differently. The problem is that Covid can also be inequitable. This is a way to look at it, as Covid’s fourth waves are moving through certain regions of the US. Mandates may prove more persuasive than ever.
- The latest on tech, science, and more: Get our newsletters!
- Looks that quill: The dark side of Hedgehog Instagram
- Is the robot-filled future of farming a nightmare or utopia?
- How to send messages that automatically disappear
- Deepfakes are now making business pitches
- It’s time to bring back cargo pants
- Explore AI like never before with our new database
- WIRED Games: Get the latest tips, reviews, and more
- Do you want the best health tools? Our Gear team has compiled a list of the top running and fitness gear, including shoes and socks.
Publiated at Thu 26 August 2021, 19:59:24 (+0000).