By MARSHA MERCER
During a recent medical test, I noticed my face mask had slipped down.
“Sorry!” I said to the technician, who was also masked. “I’m vaccinated and boosted, and you are too, right?” Slight pause.
“I’m healthy,” he said, using a favorite dodge of the unvaccinated.
Why would anyone whose job requires close contact with people who could be sick or immune-compromised take such a risk for himself, his patients and co-workers?
He said he had decades of experience, including at a hospital where tuberculosis patients coughed in his face, and was healthy. He doesn’t buy the need for vaccinations against COVID-19, thinks they could be harmful, and believes the number of reported COVID deaths is inflated.
Scientists, however, agree vaccinations help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its severity and are less risky than the disease.
Most healthcare workers voluntarily take the commonsense precaution of vaccinations. Still, about 30% of workers in hospitals were unvaccinated as of September, according to a Centers for Disease Control study.
Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued rules requiring vaccinations for healthcare workers and for businesses with 100 employees or more. Both rules are stalled, at least temporarily, by court challenges.
The healthcare rule would require all workers in facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding to be fully vaccinated, with no exceptions, or facilities could lose federal funding. The OSHA rule includes a provision that allows workers who do not get vaccinated to be tested weekly and wear masks on the job.
President Joe Biden was reluctant to impose such vaccination mandates, but after incentives and voluntary behavior weren’t enough, he earlier rolled out requirements for federal workers and employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated.
The mandate for contractors, which included limited exceptions for medical and religious reasons, was blocked Tuesday in federal court. The White House vows to continue fighting for mandates.
Many private employers have imposed vaccination mandates on their own. They realize the economy won’t get back to normal – whatever that is -- until more of the population is protected against this deadly, unpredictable disease.
The latest troubling news about the fast-spreading omicron variant has led public health officials to urge everyone eligible to get vaccinations and booster shots. New research from Pfizer and BioNTech indicates a booster shot may help protect against omicron, but it’s too soon to know.
Opponents argue vaccination mandates are an example of federal overreach. Politicians like to claim they personally are pro-vaccine but anti-mandate. They conveniently forget they and their children had to receive vaccinations against other diseases to enroll in school.
But COVID-19 vaccination mandates are seen as a potent political issue for the midterm elections. The Senate voted Wednesday to repeal Biden’s mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. All Republicans and two Democrats – Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana -- voted to nullify the mandate.
The 52-48 vote was largely symbolic, if not a political stunt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is unlikely to bring the measure up for a vote in the House, and if it were to pass, the White House said Biden would veto it. It would be his first presidential veto.
Opponents of mandates say their constituents fear mandates will cost jobs and wreck the economy, but instead of working to educate the uninformed, politicians pander.
“Encouraging and requiring are two different things,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. Republican of West Virginia, told reporters. More than killing the American economy, she said, the vaccine mandate is “killing the American spirit of being able to make decisions about yourself, to be respected for that.”
Vaccination mandates may be more popular than Republican politicians think. Half of Americans support the mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, while 47% oppose it, a Wall Street Journal poll reported this week. Slightly more – 55% -- support vaccination mandates for public safety workers, such as police and firefighters.
Everyone is sick of the pandemic, but it shows no sign of waning. We all need to take responsibility to fight it. To everyone who’s eligible, except those with a legitimate medical excuse: Get your vaccinations and boosters.©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.