Momentum for vaccine mandates seems to be building — which could ultimately matter much more than any mask-wearing guidelines.
Facebook, Google and Netflix all said yesterday that they would require many employees to have been vaccinated for Covid-19, with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons. The companies joined Morgan Stanley, The Washington Post and several other high-profile private employers.
Several local governments — including New York State yesterday — have announced worker mandates that cover a few million people combined. In some cases, people can take a regular Covid test instead of being vaccinated.
More than 600 universities have announced mandates for students or employees. California State, the country’s largest four-year public university system, joined the list Tuesday. Many hospitals also have mandates, including the sprawling Veterans Health Administration and the Mayo Clinic.
Perhaps the biggest new rule is scheduled to be announced today — from President Biden, covering the millions who work for the federal government.
These high-profile announcements make it much easier for other organizations that had been considering mandates to go ahead: Their leaders no longer need to worry they will become the subject of national attention for enacting one.
Still, vaccine mandates remain the exception. The vast majority of private companies have not required their workers to be vaccinated. Nor have almost any major companies required their customers — like airline passengers or theater goers — to be vaccinated. (One hurdle, some companies say, is the F.D.A.’s failure to grant the vaccines full approval, despite strong endorsements by the F.D.A.’s leaders.)
Mandates, in short, may be the most significant Covid response that the country has not yet really tried.
‘Real anger brewing’
Mandates are controversial, obviously. Many Republican officials oppose them. Ohio has passed a law restricting school mandates, and Florida has banned businesses from requiring consumers to prove vaccination. Given this opposition, vaccine mandates are never going to be national.
But they could become much more common — and the Delta variant has led more politicians, business executives and other leaders to consider them. Several weeks ago, Covid appeared to be receding on its own: Vaccinations were rising, and cases were plunging. But the combination of lingering vaccine skepticism and the contagiousness of Delta has caused cases to surge.
Many Americans are now unhappily pondering the possibility that a return to normal life remains months away. The C.D.C. is telling some people to put their masks back on. Businesses, including Google, are delaying plans to bring workers back to the office, into the autumn. Parents are anxious that schools will not fully reopen this fall, which would almost certainly cause more academic and psychological damage for children. Many parents are also worried that children too young to be vaccinated remain vulnerable to “long Covid.”
The primary cause of all these problems, many experts say, is the large share of Americans who are unvaccinated — about one third of those eligible. The biggest costs of their refusal fall directly on them: They are risking their lives. But vaccinated people also pay a price, through restrictions on daily life — and the increased chances of future outbreaks, which could produce vaccine-resistant variants.
“I think there’s some real anger brewing out there among vaccinated folks that’s not getting much attention,” David Nir, the political director of Daily Kos, wrote. My colleague Roni Caryn Rabin reported, “Many inoculated Americans are losing patience with vaccine holdouts.” Kay Ivey, Alabama’s Republican governor, was harsher: “Time to start blaming the unvaccinated.”
Vaccine mandates are the policy manifestation of this frustration. They effectively tell the unvaccinated that their decision is hurting others and that society has an interest in pushing them to change. They can refuse, but they will pay a price — in lost access to a job, a college campus or other shared experiences where they may infect other people.
Ezra Klein, Times Opinion: “The conventional wisdom is that there is some argument, yet unmade and perhaps undiscovered, that will change the minds of the roughly 30 percent of American adults who haven’t gotten at least one dose. There probably isn’t … Polio and measles were murderous, but their near elimination required vaccine mandates.”
German Lopez, Vox: “Mandates should be treated as a last resort: The cities and states that, for example, haven’t tried cash incentives for vaccination could try that first.” (Starting tomorrow, New York City will give $100 to many residents who receive their first dose.)
The Wall Street Journal editorial board: “No government should order the general public to take a vaccine except in cases of the most extreme health danger. The matter is different for private employers, who should be able to set their own workplace rules … It’s an odd libertarian streak that dislikes government orders to individuals but then says private employers shouldn’t be free to choose.”
And more on Covid
Fully vaccinated people from the U.S. and most of Europe will be allowed to enter England and Scotland without quarantining starting Monday.
Senator Mitch McConnell plans to buy radio ads promoting vaccines in Kentucky.
Federal pandemic aid will cut the number of Americans in poverty by a record 45 percent this year, a study found.
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ARTS AND IDEAS Undoing the damage of ‘Jaws’
A skilled diver and spearfishing champion, Valerie Taylor was one half of the Australian couple whose shark footage featured in the climax of the 1975 blockbuster “Jaws.”
That’s just one chapter of her life. There was also the time she saved herself at sea by anchoring her hair ribbons to coral until a boat found her. Or the time she taught Mick Jagger to scuba dive. Now 85, she is the subject of a National Geographic documentary, “Playing With Sharks,” on Disney+.
Taylor has spent much of her life as a conservationist of sharks. “They all have different personalities. Some are shy, some are bullies, some are brave,” she told Ashley Spencer in an interview for The Times. “When you get to know a school of sharks, you get to know them as individuals.”
Her shift from hunter to conservationist happened in the 1960s, after she killed a shark while shooting a film. She regrets how “Jaws” influenced audiences to fear bloodthirsty, human-stalking sharks. “There’s no shark like that alive in the world today,” she said.
Though climate change and overfishing has ruined many of the underwater habitats Taylor witnessed, and her arthritis makes swimming in colder waters difficult, she still dives. “I can’t jump anymore,” she said. “But if I go into the ocean, I can fly.” — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
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