Mindful of the impact, and justifiably out of patience with the relatively small share of public employees who remain unvaccinated, members of the all-Democratic County Council have proposed legislation that would mandate vaccines for nearly all county workers, with no option allowing those who refuse the shots to undergo frequent testing instead. That bill should be enacted quickly, over the objections of public employee unions and their champion, County Executive Marc Elrich. Other localities should follow suit.
Ninety percent of adults in Montgomery are fully vaccinated, and even more have gotten at least one shot. The county is well educated and home to the National Institutes of Health. Its citizens are aware that public health experts endorse vaccine mandates, and that increasing numbers of major private employers are imposing them. So there is every reason to believe the legislation, sponsored by council members Hans Riemer, Will Jawando and Gabe Albornoz, has broad public support.
Yet oddly, the mandate has been attacked by the county’s public employee unions, organizations whose reason for existing is to protect the health, safety and welfare of its employees. By opposing mandatory vaccines, they are doing the opposite.
United Airlines announced this summer it would require its entire workforce to be vaccinated. Now more than 95 percent of the airline’s roughly 67,000 employees have been immunized. About 2,000 workers have applied for medical or religious exemptions and a few hundred others have refused to comply.
If United Airlines and other important cogs in the private sector can cope with the minor disruptions that may arise from vaccine mandates, so can Montgomery County. But Mr. Elrich, who rarely allows a sliver of daylight to separate him from the employee unions that form his political base, claims that requiring vaccines might discombobulate services in his suburban jurisdiction.
Nonsense. Massachusetts and Washington state have announced vaccine mandates for public employees, with no testing opt-out, and other jurisdictions are moving in that direction. Montgomery’s own school system, one of the nation’s largest, has already imposed a vaccine mandate on its 25,000 employees — also with no alternative to submit to frequent testing instead — resulting in overwhelming compliance and minimal disruptions.
In fact, more than three-quarters of the county’s public workers are already partially or fully vaccinated — and the percentage may be far higher, given that 15 percent have not reported their status. No doubt many of them wish their co-workers would get with the program. The truth is, mandates work, and the county’s vaccine-or-test policy has run its course. As the country passes 700,000 deaths from covid, squishy indulgence on the part of public officials is no longer responsible.