In the United States, there have been almost 46 million reported cases of COVID-19, and over 745,000 deaths recorded since the beginning of the pandemic. In recent weeks there has thankfully been a downward trend of infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, but despite this positive news, vaccination rates remain relatively steady. Of those eligible to receive the vaccine nationwide, only 58% are fully vaccinated and 67% have received at least one dose. According to the New York Times, experts believe that for the United States to reach a “possibly elusive threshold of protection against the coronavirus” 90% or more of the total population, including both children and adults, would need to be fully vaccinated. At the current pace of vaccinations, the US would reach this goal in July 2022.
Vaccine mandates have been used across the country as one of many tactics to increase vaccination rates. When President Joe Biden announced his COVID-19 action plan one of his six goals was vaccinating the unvaccinated. This plan required all employers with over 100 employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated or receive weekly testing. It also required vaccinations for all federal workers and contractors, and over 17 million health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid hospitals and other health care settings. Additionally, he called on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative test result before entry.
President Biden’s mandate caused a significant amount of controversy across the US, with some businesses relieved that they themselves did not have to make the decision, while others were frustrated they were being forced to impose the mandate. The COVID-19 vaccine mandates have also contributed to the politicization of the pandemic response. For example, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning private companies imposing mandatory vaccinations. Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis has also stated his opposition to mandatory vaccinations, and would sue the Biden administration over its federal mandates.
However, not all state Governors have shared the same viewpoint as Governors Abbott and DeSantis. The Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, has called for COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for teachers and long-term care workers, and New York has imposed a statewide vaccination mandate for all nursing homes, home care, hospice care, and hospital workers.
In the public sector, police unions and frontline officers across the nation have expressed conflicting views on vaccines and mandates. The New York Times reported, “Far more law enforcement officers in the US have died from COVID-19 than from any other work-related cause in 2020 and 2021”. Yet, police unions are still fighting the mandate despite the danger the virus poses to their members. Frontline police officers have a job that is impossible to do remotely or to maintain social distance as they must be in close contact with the public which places both the officers and public at potential risk. New York City police unions had warned that 10,000 officers would be off the streets because of the mandate, though as of 1 November, only 34 had been pulled and placed on unpaid leave.
The vaccine mandate for police officers is also problematic for Seattle’s police department. A lack of available officers means that detectives and non-patrol officers are being sent to respond to emergency calls. Many police departments are fearful that following through on mandates will lead to under-staffed precincts, which will lead to greater public safety issues. The timing of the mandates and lack of staff, partnered with an increase in homicide and crime rates is forcing city officials to pick the lesser of two evils. Many officers and civilian staff across the country have submitted requests for medical or religious exemptions and await decisions. A similar situation is being seen with New York City’s Fire Department. 2,300 firefighters called in sick as a city-imposed vaccination mandate went into effect on 1 Nov.
In other industries such as the airline industry, support for President Biden’s vaccine mandates has been more forthcoming. Southwest and American Airlines have both stated that new hires will have to show proof of vaccination on their first day. Delta Airlines, a federal contractor, has not required vaccinations yet, but has stated that approximately 90% of their employees are already vaccinated, and unvaccinated staff have to start paying $200 more each month to their insurance company.
While contentious, Reuters reported that in the United States, vaccine mandates are working, even though there has been vocal backlash from some lawmakers, large trade organizations and unions. Since being imposed, vaccine mandates have led to a 20% increase in vaccination rates. The recent decrease in COVID-19 related deaths, hospitalizations and infections, may indicate that the mandates have led to a positive change.
The Biden Administration’s COVID-19 plan still includes the mandates, and the administration appears to be moving past any backlash they have received, and keeping their eye on the end goal—to end the COVID-19 pandemic. While many organizations struggle to implement the mandates, it is important for employers and managers to communicate clearly with their employees on the expectations, and provide them with all the necessary information to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of themselves and their organizations.
AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at email@example.com.