So why do we now call for COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools – for teachers and eligible students – and for all Nassau County, town and village employees and restaurants?
For starters, because they work.
Vaccine mandates implemented for health care and nursing home workers have led to a surge in employees getting shots.
In New York, where 650,000 employees at hospitals and nursing homes were to have received at least one vaccine by the start of last week, 92 percent were in compliance – compared with 82 percent for nursing home employees and 84 percent for health care workers just the week before.
Northwell Health, which operates 19 hospitals, including 11 on Long Island, said Monday that it had fired 1,400 employees who refused to get vaccinations.
“We are now beginning the process to exit the rest of our unvaccinated staff,” Northwell said in an earlier news release. “Northwell wants to reassure the public that during this time there will be no impact to the quality of patient care at any of our facilities. We are proud that our workforce is already nearly 100 percent vaccinated.”
Executives at several major corporations that required vaccines reported that employees opted in overwhelming numbers to protect themselves, their families, their friends and their co-workers rather than quitting.
United Airlines reported a 99.6 percent success rate for employees after implementing a vaccine mandate. American Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have now followed United’s lead and mandated that all employees get vaccinated.
Second, the overwhelming majority of the 100,000 Americans who have died since mid-June, a period in which there was broad access to shots, were unvaccinated.
And unlike the early period of the pandemic, those infected were younger. Every age group under 55 had its highest death toll during the period at the hands of the delta variant.
Most of these deaths were preventable. Think of that. Nearly 100,000 people have died since June simply because they refused to be vaccinated.
A CDC study published in September found that after the delta strain became the dominant variant, unvaccinated people were more than 10 times as likely to die of the virus as the people who got their shots.
The 100,000 deaths since June bring the total deaths due to COVID-19 to over 700,000, more than all the people who died from the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919.
Yes, the overwhelming majority who died lived in red states in the South. And, yes, Nassau County – and nearly everywhere in New York – has had a far greater percentage of the population get vaccinated.
But that is not to say that Nassau residents – who endured a terrible death toll early in the pandemic – are all vaccinated and face no danger.
More than 90 percent of Nassau adults have received at least one shot – the highest rate of any county in the country.
But only 77 percent of the eligible population in Nassau, which includes those 12 to 17, has received at least one shot and, in some North Shore areas well less among adults. Both Manhattan and Queens show higher rates with 82 percent and 80 percent.
The lowest vaccination rate on the North Shore is 71.8 percent in the 11024 ZIP code of the Great Neck peninsula, which includes the Village of Kings Point. The next lowest one is also in Great Neck, with the 11023 ZIP code at a 74 percent rate. This area incorporates parts of the villages of Great Neck and Saddle Rock, along with Great Neck Gardens and Harbor Hills.
The statistics show vaccination rates of 90.4 percent in Roslyn, 86.6 percent in Albertson, 86.4 percent in New Hyde Park’s 11040 ZIP code, 85.3 percent in Mineola, 84.6 percent in Port Washington, 84.4 percent in Williston Park, 83.8 percent in Great Neck’s 11021 ZIP code, 83.6 percent in Roslyn Heights, 79.8 percent in Manhasset and 77.5 percent in Floral Park.
On Friday, 4,701 New Yorkers tested positive for COVID-19 in New York state, bringing the total to 2,416,888. This included 293 in Nassau County.
The threat posed by the highly contagious delta variant, the onset of autumn and the still significant number of unvaccinated residents persuaded the Town of North Hempstead last week to cancel all in-person Town Board meetings and resume attendance by Zoom only after three months of in-person meetings.
Add to this the number of people who the CDC advises to get a booster shot as the benefit of the first round of shots dissipates.
But what of those who believe the threat of COVID-19 is overstated or the government is exceeding its power – a combination of misinformation, disinformation and illogic which Facebook, Fox News hosts and radio broadcasters have helped to spread?
Little can be said for people who cannot or will not acknowledge a threat that has killed more than 700,000 people and has infected 43.6 million – a significant number of whom survived but suffer long-term health effects.
For the others, we say this is a public health crisis and governments and businesses are obligated to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of a deadly disease.
This should include requiring all government employees – teachers, police, firefighters – to get a vaccine.
What’s the precedent? It begins with George Washington requiring smallpox vaccines for the revolutionary army and continues to this day for every child who attends public schools in New York.
What about infringing on people’s freedom?
Well, the government regularly does this as a matter of public safety. Ever hear of speed limits, requirements to stop at a red light or drunk driving laws? Or for that matter, the eight vaccines required for all school kids in New York.
In this case, people are free not to be vaccinated. But that doesn’t mean governments and private employers don’t have the right to prevent them from harming others. Those who want to exercise their freedom by not getting a shot can also exercise their freedom and find a job somewhere else.
Religious exemptions for COVID vaccination? Well, did you seek a similar exemption for you or your children for vaccines required by schools?
And do you want to eliminate the requirement for students to get shots for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, rubella, polio and chickenpox and meningitis?
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer last week allowed New York City to require adults working in its public schools to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
In refusing to block the mandate, Judge Brian M. Cogan of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, wrote in an earlier ruling that it was “a rational policy decision surrounding how best to protect children during a global pandemic,” The New York Times reported.
So why exactly are local school districts not imposing the same requirement? The refusal of school districts to do so is beginning to give local control a bad name.
Well, can’t people who have been vaccinated spread the virus when they suffer a breakthrough case?
Yes, but a new study shows that people who are vaccinated against COVID are “significantly less likely” to spread the disease.
And logic says that those who suffer breakthrough cases are far more likely to have been infected by an unvaccinated person than a vaccinated person.
President Joe Biden in September imposed mandates on businesses with 100 or more workers to require vaccination or weekly testing, and mandated shots for health care workers and federal contractors. He has now announced that federal employees must prove they’re vaccinated or face suspension or termination.
The city of New York has already required proof of vaccination for all those eating indoors with no decrease in business.
Gov. Kathy Hochul should move beyond a mask mandate to requiring students and teachers to be vaccinated. If a school employee does not want to ensure the safety of his or her students’ safety that is a pretty good indication that they have chosen the wrong vocation.
Same for police and firefighters and anyone else who deals with the public and represents local government.
Those who have done the responsible thing and gotten their shot should not be held hostage by those who haven’t.