There’s good news and bad news in the war on COVID-19. The good news is that millions of adults have already been vaccinated (about 26% of the population), while many others in just about every demographic category plan to do so. A Pew Research Center study published on March 10 revealed that, of those in the latter group, 91% of Asian Americans say they will either definitely or probably get the vaccination, while 70% of Hispanics, 69% of Whites, and 61% of Blacks say the same thing.
The bad news is that percentages can be misleading. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 11% of Hispanics and 9% of Blacks have been fully or partially vaccinated thus far, and the Pew Center reported that over 37% of total respondents to its study say they will never get vaccinated. If that number holds, we may never reach herd immunity. The two main reasons cited for not getting a shot are fear of side effects (84%) and distrust of the vaccine development process (74%). Of course, after the Johnson & Johnson debacle, who could blame anyone for not trusting vaccines?
Last month, the Biden administration announced it would spend $3 billion on “fact-based messaging,” meanwhile healthcare companies like Novant have produced a number of YouTube videos to encourage people to get vaccinated, and that includes their partnership with NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace who is trying to inspire people of color to get on board and get a shot. Hopefully, these and other efforts will convince the hold-outs to roll up their sleeves.
Yet as we study and report on the numbers of people who are voluntarily getting vaccinated, the nation is also caught up in a debate over who can be forced to get a shot. Businesses, hospitals, and municipal governments are struggling with how and when to require that their employees be vaccinated or else forfeit their job. In fact, by some estimates, over 40% of healthcare workers refuse to be vaccinated, but so long as the various COVID vaccines are only approved for “emergency use,” then those numbers may not change.
Still, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces laws against discrimination in the workplace, says that employers have the right to require workers to be vaccinated, but with an important caveat. Writing for pcma.org’s CONVENE magazine, author Curt Wagner warns that in requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID, the employer must not violate conditions set forth in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act which precludes any type of medical examination that might reveal private information about the employee. And then there’s employee morale to be considered. Last month, Forbes columnist Kristin Stoller reported on a recent survey by the Edelman Trust Barometer, which revealed that “69% of survey respondents believe the decision to get vaccinated should be a personal one, not to be made by the employer.” Their conclusion was that employers should “work with your employees as much as you can, rather than coming across as strictly dictating.” Again though, I don’t think it’s asking too much to want the people who are serving me or caring for me to have been fully vaccinated, and the only way we’re going to have that assurance is if we know that their employer has mandated compliance.
Whether voluntary or mandatory, it’s one thing to get vaccinated, but it’s quite another to be required to show proof that you did so. And that brings me to the debate over so-called vaccine passports. Some elected representatives and Administration officials suggest that every vaccinated person should carry and be prepared to show their vaccination card, but critics say this is a violation of our privacy rights. One right-wing lawmaker even said that having to show proof of being vaccinated is like something out of Nazi Germany. But there’s a precedent for those kinds of identifications and verifications. In the early 1900s, for example, the United States required proof of smallpox vaccination before you could enter the country. No matter, though, because a number of Governors have already denounced the idea of a Vaccine Passport, including Florida chief executive Ron DeSantis. But as Yahoo News correspondent David Knowles noted in last month’s report, Florida public schools and daycare centers have always required proof of vaccination against a number of diseases, so what’s the big deal? Besides, Vaccine Passports do not have to divulge confidential health information. In fact, the State of Hawaii may soon approve an app that would show proof of a COVID shot, but nothing else.
Despite all of the doubts and fears about the COVID vaccine, as well as concerns about privacy, passports, and mandates, the fact is that the longer folks wait to be vaccinated, the longer it will take for the nation as a whole to return to normal, and that’s a place I’m ready to get to.