Vaccine Refusers Don’t Get to Dictate Terms Anymore writes Juliette Kayyem in The Atlantic. Americans are entitled to make their own decisions, but their employers, health insurers, and fellow citizens are not required to accommodate them.
Why should I, among the vaccinated, pay the price for the recalcitrance, of anti-vaxxers? Read on.
The vaccinated have for too long carried the burden of the pandemic. In theory, unvaccinated people should be taking greater precautions. A recent poll conducted for the Associated Press found that vaccinated adults have been more likely than unvaccinated ones to wear masks in public settings, refrain from unnecessary travel, and avoid large group settings.
Public-health officials can keep trying to figure out ways to persuade the unvaccinated to get shots, and maybe at this late point they can still discover some new message that succeeds where all others have failed. If so, that would be fantastic. But begging is not a strategy. It is not a coincidence that many of the entities pushing hardest for mandatory vaccination are in industries—higher education, travel, entertainment—that have been badly disrupted by unpredictable waves of infection and are existentially threatened by a pandemic that goes on without end.
People in the crisis-management field have made peace with blanket one-size-fits-all policies that some individuals don’t like. When a ship is going down, passengers aren’t given the luxury of quibbling with the color or design of the life vest, and they can’t dither forever about whether to put one on or not. Emergencies invariably force people to make some choices that they might not consider ideal, but asking everyone to get vaccinated against a potentially lethal virus is not a big imposition. Ironically, by talking as if everyone, given enough time, will eventually choose the shot, public-health agencies may have understated the urgency of the matter and invited the vaccine-hesitant to dwell on the decision indefinitely.
Sorry. Time’s up.
The Biden administration could do even more to assist the communities and businesses that are trying to nudge unvaccinated people along. In 2021, paper cards that can easily be lost, damaged, or falsified are an outmoded way to keep track of who has gotten a shot. Even establishments that check their patrons’ vaccination status are doing so in makeshift ways—for instance, by asking patrons to show a driver’s license alongside a picture of their vaccination card on their phone. Some states are moving forward with their own vaccination-verification apps, but the failure to plan a national system will be viewed, in time, as a costly concession to a vocal minority.
Employers are being creative with some of their requirements, creating so-called leaky mandates. Rather than fire noncompliant employees, for example, Delta Air Lines opted for a financial penalty. This approach may make particular sense in industries where a rapid round of terminations will hurt a business’s ability to function. It also acknowledges the free will of vaccine refusers: They can keep rejecting the shot, as long as they accept the consequences.
Up to this point, many employers and medical providers—wary of offending anyone—have been careful to describe vaccination as a deeply personal decision. Vaccination mandates are essentially a recognition that vaccinated people have feelings too, and that the burden of fighting the pandemic shouldn’t be on them alone.
I know, I know: I should try harder to understand the feelings of unvaccinated Americans. Being more patient and empathetic would make me sound nicer. But do you know what’s really nice? Going back to school safely. Traveling without feeling vulnerable. Seeing a nation come back to life.
Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security under President Barack Obama, is the faculty chair of the homeland-security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.
With thanks to Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark.