The other night, I told my two kids to “put on your socks and shoes” so we could all go out and pick up dinner. But my oldest insisted that she didn’t want to go. "That’s fine," I told her, "but we’re picking up dessert and if you don’t come, there will be none for you." To my surprise, she agreed to forgo a treat.
I share that experience because in that brief parenting moment lies the solution for the continued refusal of millions of Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19. If people want to make the choice not to protect themselves, they can do so. It’s a free country after all, as many of those arguing against vaccination are quick to remind us. But there are also consequences for our choices.
Want to see a movie or play, eat in a restaurant, hear a concert, shop at the mall, visit a museum or board a train or a plane? Then get vaccinated and be prepared to show proof of it. Otherwise, be prepared to miss out on those experiences.
In other words: No vaccine = no treat.
No longer can the country be held hostage to the stubbornness and selfishness of those who are making it impossible for America to move past the pandemic. And we’ve seen proof that mandates work in dislodging the holdouts.
Last week in France, where vaccinations hover around 40 percent, President Emmanuel Macron announced this exact policy would begin in August. Within 72 hours, more than 3 million people booked online vaccination appointments. As any parent will tell you, this is not a surprising outcome.
In the United States, however, it’s the responsible Americans who are being forced to change their behavior. In Los Angeles County, mask-wearing is again mandatory — even for those who are fully vaccinated. There’s a push to do the same in New York City, even though nationwide more than 99 percent of people still dying from Covid-19, and the overwhelming majority of those who are hospitalized, are not vaccinated. Since unvaccinated people cannot be trusted under the honor system to wear a mask in indoor settings, the rest of us have to go back to the way things were before vaccines became readily available.
Why should the Americans who have done the right thing for themselves, their families and their communities be forced to sacrifice on behalf of those who act as though their “personal choices” have no consequences?
Last week, the conservative magazine National Review published a piece arguing that vaccine-hesitant people “can’t be persuaded if they feel disrespected.” The author has it completely backward: Vaccine-willing people need to be respected. As a country, we need to stop bending over backward to appease those who are ignoring science, common sense and their civic responsibilities.
The issue is, of course, much larger than the comfort of vaccinated people. It’s about the millions of Americans who are immunocompromised and still at risk. It’s about safeguarding the children under 12 who still can’t get the shot. It’s about the small segment of the population that has gotten sick even after getting both vaccine shots. It’s to prevent further variants, like the delta variant, from developing and spreading.
America needs to get a significant share of the population vaccinated to build herd immunity, a goal that keeps slipping further and further into the future. Those who refuse are not just hurting themselves: They are hurting all of us — while making it more difficult for the country to finally enter the post-pandemic world.
Contrary to the current hysteria over vaccination mandates, there is a long history in this country of requiring vaccinations. Every single state has such requirements for public school students. Since the Covid-19 vaccines were made available under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, there is only so far that the federal government can go in mandating vaccination. But that doesn’t mean it’s powerless to hold unvaccinated people accountable while the FDA moves toward full approval.
First, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has already issued guidance allowing employers to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for workers. Several major companies, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, have already implemented such or similar policies. No one is getting fired, but anyone who wants to work in an office has to be vaccinated. Even Fox Corp. has its own version of vaccine passports. More than 500 colleges are also requiring students to have proof of vaccination.
The Biden administration may not be able to force businesses to implement mandates at present, but the White House should still be encouraging others to follow suit. In addition, the FDA needs to expedite the process of fully approving the vaccines. Considering every public health official both inside and outside of government has declared them safe for use, it shouldn’t be taking so long for the FDA to take this necessary step. Once it happens, the administration should follow France’s path in tightening the mandates on vaccinations.
Second, about one-third of the military is unvaccinated currently. President Joe Biden should order every military member to get the Covid-19 vaccine — and he has the legal authority to do so. He can also reverse guidance issued last month that allowed federal employees to go unvaccinated. He should also make it a requirement for federal contractors.
Rather than require some international travelers to have proof of a negative Covid-19 test, require them to have proof of vaccination, and that includes Americans. Encourage private airlines to do the same and make it a requirement to board an Amtrak train. (Considering Amtrak is a quasi federal organization, it’s hard to see how this couldn’t be the case.)
Third, private companies need to pick up the slack. Rather than enact new mask requirements as Covid-19 cases increase and the delta variant runs rampant, they should require customers to provide a record of vaccination before entry into their events and venues. Already, some states have created digital apps that show proof of vaccination; so too have some nonprofits and private companies. Requiring proof of vaccination would likely push millions of Americans to download and use these digital tools. Knowing they can’t see a movie or go to a concert without getting a shot would almost certainly have a similar effect.
There are undoubtedly some hardcore groups and individuals who will never get vaccinated. But, as the recent case in France shows, many Americans are likely on the fence and not sure if a shot is necessary. Depriving them of the opportunities vaccinated people get to enjoy might be enough to convince them.
Putting in place vaccine mandates will undoubtedly stir a political backlash, but what other choice is there? Cajoling, encouraging, even incentivizing people who are hesitant has hit its limits. It’s time for another approach.
If people want to make the choice not to vaccinate themselves and put themselves and others at risk, well, you do you. But the rest of us need not bear the consequences of that decision.