- The COVID-19 Delta variant is leading to new restrictions for the vaccinated, as well as hints of possible lockdowns.
- But the vaccinated shouldn’t be punished to appease those who say they’ll “never” get the jab.
- Reason and science won’t convince them, but more private businesses requiring proof of vaccination might do the trick.
- Give the willfully-unvaccinated fewer options, and let the rest of us live life.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Don’t look now, but the brief, post-vaccinated bliss many of us have been enjoying might soon come to a screeching halt.
The variant has already gained a foothold in the less-vaccinated areas in the US — including regions that largely voted for Trump and eschewed lockdowns in 2020.
As CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week, we’re entering a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” While breakthrough cases have happened, it’s the unvaccinated that are overwhelmingly spreading the Delta variant, and ending up hospitalized with severe symptoms.
Maybe it’s the trauma talking, but after living under lockdowns and onerous restrictions for months on end, I’m in no mood to sacrifice another minute of my kids’ childhoods.
Even if we never fully “lock down” again, it doesn’t take much imagination to foresee an outbreak of the Delta variant being used as an excuse to close schools, bring back restrictions on interstate travel, and mandate masks in all indoor situations — including for vaccinated people.
But given the nature of the surge, predominantly among the unvaccinated, instead of reverting to the most draconian of COVID-mitigation public health tactics the federal and local governments should intensify vaccination efforts, and not inflict any more punishment on those who’ve chosen to be socially responsible.
We shouldn’t impose collective restrictions and lockdown like it’s March 2020. What we should do is stay calm, not panic in the face of the Delta outbreak, and make life easier for the vaccinated and harder for those who choose to remain unvaccinated.
Keep calm, and go “own the libs” someplace else
While there’s not yet enough available data to determine the extent of the threat posed by unmasked, vaccinated people in spreading the Delta variant, a recent CDC report on a COVID outbreak in Oklahoma found that of the 47 people who tested positive for the Delta variant, four were fully-vaccinated.
To add more context, a study from Public Health England this week found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective against symptomatic COVID with the Delta variant.
And according to The New York Times, breakthrough cases of the Delta variant among the vaccinated in the UK and Israel have been “mostly been among people exposed to large amounts of the virus — healthcare workers, taxi and bus drivers, for example — and in those who may have mounted weak immune responses because of their age or health conditions.”
But because we live in a society, we are affected by the actions of others. In this case, we’re negatively impacted by people choosing to not get vaccinated.
The Biden administration’s Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen suggested last week that lockdowns could be coming to low-vaccinated areas. But that’s not something the federal government has any control over, and those same areas have typically been less-inclined to impose strict restrictions during the pandemic.
Even Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cryptically hinted that the country might soon be “back in a situation in the fall that we don’t yearn for — that we went through last year.” He didn’t use the word “lockdown,” but the implication is clear.
On the other hand, restrictions are returning to places with relatively high vaccination rates — like Los Angeles, which just reinstated its indoor mask mandate.
New York City Council member Mark Levine, who is also the Chair of the Council Committee on Health, has called for indoor-masking to once again be mandated — even for the vaccinated.
Levine conceded that “there’s a very small chance [the vaccinated] can still receive/transmit” COVID, but “we need mask solidarity. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”
But that’s just the thing. There already is no solidarity.
The widespread availability of free COVID vaccines has made us the envy of the world, and yet our vaccination rates have stalled.
That’s because “never vaccine” diehards don’t care that they’re willfully prolonging the pandemic. And they don’t have to put much effort into their role in sowing death and despair. When “owning the libs” is your only guiding principle, all you have to do is not get vaccinated to achieve your goal.
It begs the question: If millions of people are refusing widely-available free vaccines — even with over 610,000 Americans dead from COVID — why on Earth would anyone expect these same people to wear masks?
A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that among unvaccinated Americans, 37% falsely believe the vaccine is more dangerous than COVID itself, with just 29% saying the virus is more dangerous, and 34% saying they’re not sure.
A majority — 51% — of the unvaccinated said they would “never” get the vaccine. And in a different poll by The Economist/YouGov, a majority of those who said they won’t get the vaccine falsely believe the vaccine is just a government plot to put microchips in the population’s bloodstream.
That’s not “cautiously waiting for more information,” that’s a broad level of ignorant certitude of infuriating and horrifying scale.
But I still wouldn’t go so far as Washington Post columnist Max Boot, who says governors should “mandate vaccinations for the use of indoor spaces outside the home.” There’s a better way.
Freedom to not associate
Public schools and the military are institutions that have long-mandated proof of a number of inoculations, and it’s probably a good idea for healthcare workers to be vaccinated. But, by and large, we don’t really need to make this a top-down mandate.
Private businesses requiring proof of vaccination — the subject of so much overwrought panic-mongering by conservatives a few months ago — now looks like a pretty good idea.
Fox News, for example, requires a “vaccine passport” for anyone who wants to enter its facilities, despite several of the network’s hosts consistently railing against the concept as tyranny.
At this stage in the pandemic, requiring the vaccinated to mask up indoors in nearly all situations feels like collective punishment, a requirement to suffer more out of “solidarity” with the unvaccinated.
But if private businesses voluntarily adopted proof of vaccination on a widespread basis, the unvaccinated would have fewer places to spread the virus. And after a while, they might grow sufficiently weary of doors being closed in their faces, and go get the shot.
I’m not saying I want to create “two Americas.” I’m simply saying we have to acknowledge that we already have two Americas.
The best way to reunify the country is to beat the pandemic, and the best way to beat the pandemic is to get people vaccinated, even if that means imposing costs on those that choose to put us all at risk.
There’s no perfect way to do it. Certain public accommodations, like grocery stores, can’t legally be closed-off to the unvaccinated. And there might need to be a carve-out policy for those who can’t be vaccinated due to legitimate health concerns.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for its part, could end its emergency use authorization (EUA) and formally approve the COVID vaccines, which would belatedly bring its official authorization in line with its public guidance, and encourage some skeptics who have honest concerns about the vaccines to do the right thing.
Biden’s call for door-to-door vaccination outreach could help the millions of people who say they want to be inoculated but, for whatever reason, haven’t been.
And for those who still don’t want the vaccine, by all means, slam the door in the government health worker’s face if you so choose.
Incentives matter, and if the concept of “herd immunity” isn’t convincing enough for the willfully unvaccinated, perhaps the realization that a lot of doors will be closed to them might coax them into begrudgingly getting a jab.
There have been plenty of takes lately arguing against “bullying” the unvaccinated as a counterproductive strategy. It’s true, few people are likely to respond positively to badgering condescension.
But I’m also not interested in sacrificing a third year of my kids’ education because the willfully-unvaccinated need their hands held.
Anti-vaccine diehards will wax poetic about their “freedom” to stay unvaccinated, but the vaccine means freedom from the pandemic, which punishes us all.
People who say they won’t be vaccinated — ever — have the right to put their own lives at risk. But we shouldn’t default to treating their view as a reasonable one. Let them enjoy fewer freedoms, and let the rest of us live life.