This is a preventable tragedy. Over 99 percent of covid-19 deaths in June were among the unvaccinated. Yet even as evidence grows that vaccines are safe and effective, resistance to them is also growing. A recent Post-ABC News poll found that 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated — up from 24 percent three months earlier. Only 59 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.
There is vaccine hesitancy among many different sectors of the population, including reckless youths, granola liberals who believe in alternative medicines and African Americans who distrust the health-care system. Some are still persuadable, but many are not. As I’ve previously noted, the biggest obstacle to vaccination is now Republicans who are being fed a steady diet of anti-vaxxer propaganda by Fox “News” Channel, Facebook and other social media, and reckless demagogues such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
The same Post-ABC News poll found that 86 percent of Democrats had gotten at least one vaccine shot compared with only 45 percent of Republicans. Right-wingers are literally dying to own the libs. In the process they are ensuring that deadly variants will continue to circulate, endangering school reopenings and preventing a return to normalcy.
This is madness. Stop making reasonable appeals to those who will not listen to reason. (According to an Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of those who refuse to get vaccinated say vaccines are being used by the government to implant microchips.) It’s a waste of time. Start mandating that anyone who wants to travel on an airplane, train or bus, attend a concert or movie, eat at a restaurant, shop at a store, work in an office or visit any other indoor space show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
For months, Republicans have been caterwauling about vaccine passports, even obscenely comparing them to the Holocaust. All this sturm und drang obscures the fact there has been far too little use made of vaccine passports. I downloaded a New York state app on my iPhone months ago to verify that I’m vaccinated, but I’ve never once had to show it. Instead, many stores have signs saying that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks — but they don’t verify vaccination. That provides no incentive to get your shots. Los Angeles County is also treating vaccinated and unvaccinated alike by again requiring masks for everyone. Why not just mandate proof of vaccination or a negative test?
European countries also favored a voluntary approach to vaccinations initially, but now they are moving in the direction of mandates. French President Emmanuel Macron just mandated compulsory vaccinations for all health-care workers by Sept. 15 and declared that, starting Aug. 1, anyone who wants to enter cafes, restaurants, theaters, long-distance trains or shopping malls must have proof of vaccination or a negative test. This announcement prompted more than 3 million people to register for shots in just five days. Germany, Italy and Spain have already raced ahead of the United States in the percentage of the population that has been partially or fully vaccinated, and France will soon overtake us too.
In the United States, the authority of state governments to mandate vaccinations is clear — it goes all the way back to a 1905 Supreme Court case that upheld a Massachusetts law requiring vaccinations for smallpox. More recently, governors have used their public health powers to mandate mask-wearing and social distancing to fight covid-19. They ought to now take the logical next step and mandate vaccinations for the use of indoor spaces outside the home.
Biden can set an example by using his authority to mandate vaccinations for airline travel and Amtrak travel and for federal employees or those who enter federal buildings. The Pentagon has not made vaccinations mandatory because they were approved only on an emergency basis by the Food and Drug Administration — which is why a third of the military still hasn’t received a single shot. Biden can and should issue an executive order mandating military vaccinations as a national security priority.
Granted, there are limits to the United States’ ability to mandate vaccines because many red-state governors are unlikely to go along. But even Republicans want to fly on airplanes and visit blue states such as California, Hawaii, Nevada and New York. Vaccine mandates will prove controversial, to put it mildly, but, like seat belt laws, drunken driving laws and motorcycle helmet laws, they will save lives. We should not grant an unreasonable minority the power to endanger public health.