As the United States is entering the third wave of COVID-19, the facts of where we are and where we’re going are clear. Equally clear is that course corrections can save lives while preserving political freedoms and economic recovery.
There’s no doubt that the highly contagious Delta variant is driving up cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Given the experience in Britain, where Delta has been circulating longer, we should expect our already increasing numbers to expand very significantly, very quickly.
There’s also no doubt that the people of the United States have had it with the pandemic. There’s no interest in going backward with regard to personal freedoms. The first mandatory order of the third wave — masking in Los Angeles County — was promptly dissed by the sheriff, who said it wasn’t medically necessary and wouldn’t be enforced. For those who might be outraged by a disobedient sheriff dispensing medical advice, let’s remember the outrage against epidemiologists making political judgments.
Equally obnoxious — but no less certain — is that there are few souls left in America who can be intellectually persuaded to get the jab, at least by those who’ve been doing the talking. The day for effective public service announcements by basketball coaches and 18-year old pop stars is over — it’s obvious that they hold no sway over those who’ve passed on vaccination in the many months it’s been generally available. Let’s not waste any more money or energy on that.
No, if we’re gonna get more people vaccinated, the on-the-ground realities must change.
Make It Mandatory.
President Biden’s comment about Facebook killing people proves too much. If Facebook is killing people by not adequately policing misinformation — and in a sense maybe they are — then what about our political leaders?
The administration has declined to order that the 9.4 million workers who work for the federal government — civilian, military, and contracted employees — get the vaccine. That would spur more governors and mayors to order their 7.1 million workers to be vaccinated. That’s a lot of people.
All that would embolden more private employers to do likewise. We’d normalize vaccination as part of the fabric of the country — much like childhood vaccinations.
My law partner, Tom Kline, and I decided to mandate vaccinations for our 150 employees, subject to medical and religious exemptions. 143 got the shot — 96%. If other public and private employers did likewise we’d be past the pandemic PDQ.
Don’t Punish the Vaccinated.
The movement in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Las Vegas to again mandate masks indoors for everyone is ludicrously backward. Are we really going to not mandate vaccinations for unvaccinated people but mandate masks for vaccinated people?
The San Francisco health department rationalized it this way: vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks but we can’t tell who’s vaccinated so everyone should wear them. Baloney. It’s relatively easy for commercial establishments to ask patrons to flash their vax cards — most people keep them on their phone.
More importantly, we need to incentivize vaccination. So if anyone should be required to wear masks, it’s the unvaccinated. That’s an assertive form of persuasion, but it’s less aggressive than employer mandates.
Get President Trump Engaged.
It’s a little curious that the former president has not promoted vaccination. He takes credit for the vaccines, got inoculated, and knows firsthand that COVID-19 is not just like the flu. I’m no fan of the former president. But I’m willing to give Donald Trump credit where it’s deserved. Are you?
Aside from it being intellectually bankrupt to not credit what’s merited, ask yourself whether saving lives and getting past the pandemic isn’t worth swallowing a little political pride. So here goes: President Trump’s administration helped cause the development of extremely effective vaccines in record time.
It’s evident that the folks who won’t get vaccinated are mostly his adherents. Unlike a pop star or a basketball coach, Donald Trump has real credibility with the unvaccinated. They appear to be willing to follow him anywhere.
But he says he hasn’t been properly credited and he certainly hasn’t been asked. Maybe that’s the hold-up. So let’s credit him. And let’s ask him. Vaccine mandates, the preferred treatment for the vaccinated, and enlisting President Trump may offend sensibilities. But the alternative is another year or two — or more — of yo-yo’ing pandemic pandemonium, with the inevitable sickness, death, and social and economic dislocation. So let’s go.
Shanin Specter is a founding partner of Kline & Specter and a law professor. He may be reached at [email protected].