We are at an inflection point in the long war against COVID-19.
Death, hospitalization, and confirmed case rates are persistently high.
Government-imposed limitations continue to sap work, education, commerce and joy.
After quick development of extremely effective and safe vaccines, rates of vaccination are falling.
The pandemic may persist indefinitely, as lots of Americans don’t plan to get the vaccine.
That’s bad for them and all the rest of us, too, as no person is an island in the COVID ocean.
Globally, highly contagious variants are swirling and confirmed case rates are at an all-time high.
What’s there comes here, sooner or later, and the variants infecting India are probably already in the US.
Only about 10% of the world’s population has been vaccinated and obstacles to worldwide vaccination are formidable.
If the US population doesn’t get vaccinated and periodically boosted, we could have a staggeringly deadly and prolonged resurgence here and find ourselves fighting and losing to the pandemic for years.
Meanwhile, over half of our adult population has gotten at least one vaccine, based on the promise of health and freedom, with freedom still illusory.
Americans are traumatized, exhausted, and angered by the horrific combination of more than a year of death, social isolation and economic dislocation, coupled with virus policy influenced by partisan and cultural tribalism.
Too many of us are locked in our own COVID mindsets, unwilling to examine our assumptions, when what’s needed now is deep, honest and persistent questioning and science-based, non ideological answers.
We want people to get vaccinated but we plainly aren’t doing enough to encourage vaccination.
Most employers do not require vaccination, including the state and federal governments and the US military.
Vaccination verification passes aren’t proposed by those who serve the public, including airlines, mass transit, most sporting and cultural venues, restaurants and movie theaters.
Our leaders in government and corporate America are frightened by potential backlash if they incentivize or require vaccination.
But without a better carrot or a bigger stick, many Americans won’t get vaccinated and we will suffer more death and dislocation.
We can’t expect people reluctant to get the vaccine to change their minds without more information about where we are and where we’re going.
Similarly, we can’t expect our governmental and big commercial institutions to change their approach without knowing more, either.
So we need answers to basic questions from the CDC in order to inform the conversation on vaccine compliance.
If vaccination is not required or rewarded, will we ever beat the virus? If so, when?
How low must confirmed COVID cases go before we should be permitted to go back to work, not wear a mask, and not socially distance?
How much is the slowing of vaccination rates costing the United States in lives, hospitalizations, confirmed COVID cases, school missed, health care not delivered, and jobs lost?
Would vaccine passes help?
Vaccine passes are working well in Israel, where proof of vaccination is required for travel, education, concerts and other venues.
They hold the promise to work well here too, which would also encourage vaccination by placing a tangible cost on not getting a vaccine.
Vaccine passes would also permit CDC to drop their continuing recommendation to mask at substantial gatherings. That would be a huge step forward in socialization and would further incentivize vaccination.
But vaccine verification, while popular in public opinion polls, has been outlawed in several states and rarely required by businesses.
One objection is that vaccine passes are coercive.
However, we require childhood vaccinations for a variety of maladies. And permitting a medical or religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine safeguards an appropriate level of personal freedom.
Another objection has been that vaccination is not universally available.
That will lose resonance in a few weeks when every American over 16 who wanted a vaccine should have gotten a vaccine.
At that time, vaccine passes should be widely encouraged, which would further incentivize vaccination.
That may light another political and cultural fire.
But if we might not beat the virus without additional measures, vaccine passes are a sensible step.
Truth was the first casualty in the war on COVID-19. We’ll only win this war when we ask hard questions and answer them honestly.
Shanin Specter is a founding partner of Kline & Specter and a law professor. He may be reached at [email protected].