President Biden did American businesses and their workers a giant favor last week when he announced new vaccination requirements that could help the country finally overcome the lingering pandemic.
That’s “lingering” with an asterisk. In some states – where vaccination rates are low and even mask-wearing is perceived as a political statement – hospitalization and mortality rates have set new records as the more infectious Delta variant finds willing hosts. In those places, the pandemic is as real as it was last year. It didn’t have to happen and, on Thursday, Biden made his exasperation clear.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine is F.D.A. approved. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”
Whatever else anyone thinks of Biden’s performance as president, his comments carried the sting of truth. The Delta variant and the vaccine refuseniks are spreading disease and harming the nation’s economic recovery, with August job growth slower than expected and disruptions to child care and schooling keeping some parents away from work.
Aware of the risk to the country – and, no doubt, to his administration – Biden acted, announcing new safety regulations that, if implemented, will force businesses with more than 100 employees to require workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing. Businesses that fail to comply may be fined. The plan will also require others to be immunized, including all federal employees in the executive branch and employees of government contractors.
For some companies, as Biden noted, this will have no effect since they already have those rules. With perhaps more than a touch of irony, he observed that those businesses include “even Fox News,” one of the primary disseminators of misinformation – let’s call them lies – about the vaccines.
But for other businesses, uncertain about how to proceed or subject to corporate regulations, the new order should come as a welcome relief. With more people vaccinated, those enterprises will operate more safely and they won’t have to take the heat for the decision. Biden is doing that for them.
It’s true that Americans are hearing confusing information about the virus. Booster shots are under consideration, though vaccinated people face only a tiny risk of breakthrough infections. While at one time children were less likely to become sick with Covid-19, today they are falling ill in increasing numbers.
But the facts are the facts. The virus is still with us, still undermining the economy and still killing people who could be protected. States such as Florida and Texas are in a world of hurt because their leaders and too many of their residents focus on their wishes and not the needs of their schools, states and country.
The answer is to be vaccinated. The shots won’t block all infections, but they are all but guaranteed to prevent hospitalization and death. And they’re safe; serious side-effects are rare. With that performance, Americans can thrive, businesses can operate safely and the economy can rev all of its cylinders.
A new study underscores that truth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday that people who were not fully vaccinated this spring and summer were 11 more times likely to die of Covid-19 than those who were. They were also 10 times more likely to be hospitalized. Another study found that the Moderna vaccine was the most effective of the three immunizations in use in this country. But any of them will keep you alive.
It’s crazy that the country has so many people unwilling to do their part – people who elevate their own false notions over the real needs of their families, neighbors and countrymen.
Perhaps it’s just a problem of human nature. We are all subject to self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. But in this case, the defect has national consequences and lethal implications. Biden had to act.
Questions remain: Who will pay for testing the dead-enders who continue to refuse the vaccinations? Will companies have to formally document the vaccination status of workers? Those questions will be answered, sooner rather than later, one hopes.
In the meantime, this is another important turning point in the pandemic that won’t go away until more people do the right thing.
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