In much of America, vaccine hesitancy has turned into vaccine defiance. Several states have banned or are considering banning demands by businesses that people show proof of vaccination. Tennessee — where only 38 percent of adults are fully inoculated and the COVID-19 caseload is growing fast — has gone so far as to cancel public schools’ efforts to encourage eligible children to get their shots (including flu shots). For good measure, the state has fired its medical director for vaccine programs.
These actions make it harder to protect the public from COVID-19 as the highly infectious delta variant spreads. States should instead be issuing their own vaccine passports, and requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated — as President Emmanuel Macron has done in France. President Joe Biden should go beyond cajoling the vaccine-hesitant and call on hospitals and nursing homes across the U.S. to insist that their employees get their shots.
The health-care industry is the best place to start issuing vaccine mandates. A handful of hospital systems have already imposed them — and proved they work. The Houston Methodist system, the first to act, retained all but 153 of its 26,000 employees as it pushed its vaccination rate from 85 percent to 100 percent (with about 600 staffers allowed medical or religious exemptions). A lawsuit brought by employees wanting to work unvaccinated failed.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has confirmed that employers have the authority to require that their workers be vaccinated — even though COVID-19 vaccines still have only emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration. As the FDA works on granting full approval by the end of summer, hospitals and nursing homes should move ahead with mandates, as epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors have urged.
Many colleges and universities are also demanding that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated. On Monday a federal judge upheld Indiana University’s mandate. Some banks are requiring employees to disclose their vaccination status. Morgan Stanley has told its workers to get their shots or stay home. It makes sense for companies of all kinds to allow only vaccinated employees to work alongside others.
The U.S. has made impressive progress toward defeating COVID-19. Although not quite 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, almost 80 percent of those over 65 are. So even as the delta variant spreads, the most vulnerable are well protected. Because COVID tends to be less severe in younger adults and children, rising caseloads pose less risk than before of overwhelming hospitals. Even so, cases are rising (up 70 percent over the past week) and so are hospital admissions and deaths (up 36 percent and 26 percent, respectively). The surge is occurring almost entirely among the unvaccinated.
To discourage people from their getting their shots is unconscionable. But it’s no longer good enough to simply call on the vaccine-hesitant to protect themselves and others. Hospitals, schools and businesses are within their rights to insist on vaccinations — and ought to be doing just that.
— Bloomberg Opinion