The policy isn’t dumb. The more people we can get vaccinated by having the boss twist their arms, the more lives we’ll save and the less transmission we’ll have. Remember, the evidence suggests that vaxxed people with breakthrough infections are less contagious than the unvaccinated. That means infections caused by the vaccinated are likely to be milder on average than ones caused by the unvaxxed are.
And of course, many vaccinated people will fight off the virus before they’re contagious at all.
What’s dumb is Biden putting his personal and political seal of approval on employer mandates this way, on a day when the public is paying close attention to vaccine news.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) August 23, 2021
Luckily for Biden, a solid majority of Americans are pro-mandate. For the moment.
66% supported state and local governments requiring masks.
62% supported employers requiring workers to get the vaccination.
68% supported businesses refusing service to the unvaccinated.
65% supported a ban on the unvaccinated traveling by airplane or mass transit.
65% supported sporting events and concerts barring the unvaccinated.
71% said colleges had a right to require students to be vaccinated to return to campus.
Unless partisan politics interferes, there’s no reason to think those numbers won’t get more lopsided over time. The more people are vaccinated, the fewer there are who stand to lose any privileges for holding out. And the worse the Delta outlook gets, the more the jittery vaccinated majority will favor draconian measures to keep the unvaccinated out of their shared spaces. That starts with the workplace.
In fact, an Axios poll published three weeks ago found 64 percent would support government vaccine mandates. I doubt we’ll reach that point in the pressure campaign since it’ll cause more political trouble than it’s worth, but private employers have plenty of popular support for twisting arms.
Three months ago, before Delta, I think employer mandates were a harder sell. At the time the most transmissible variant was Alpha, which was no match at all for the vaccines. You could get your shots, unmask, and have only a very small chance of being sickened if you were infected by an unvaccinated person around you. In which case, why bully the unvaccinated into getting their shots? They were only hurting themselves. Three months later, breakthrough infections are happening commonly and some of the vaxxed are getting quite ill from them, albeit typically not so ill that they need hospital care. Worse, the volume of unvaccinated people who need hospital attention after getting infected is straining the health-care system again, a calamity that was unimaginable 100 days ago when the post-COVID era seemed upon us. We’re back in the spring 2020 position of having to flatten the curve except this time we have a pharmaceutical weapon to do the flattening — if only we could get people to take it. Enter the mandates.
It would be reassuring if states with high vaccination rates were uniformly seeing low hospitalization rates, as that would suggest that some places really had finally vaxxed their way to herd immunity. But it’s not so, notes Jim Geraghty today. The less vaccinated Republican south is America’s hot zone but more highly vaccinated Democratic states are starting to suffer strain on their hospital systems too:
Hawaii is 54 percent fully vaccinated, but more than 72 percent of residents have at least one shot; that latter figure ranks third out of all 50 states. But for having so many Hawaiians walking around with at least some vaccine protection, the numbers there are surprisingly grim: “Hawaii’s largest private hospital system’s intensive care units are functioning at or near capacity this week amid an alarming surge of coronavirus cases on the islands, a hospital official said. Some ICU beds were open at The Queen’s Health Systems hospitals Tuesday, but the units were ‘completely full’ on Monday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.”
Oregon is 56.8 percent fully vaccinated, with 62 percent of the population with one shot — about twelfth-best out of the 50 states. But that state’s hospitals are feeling the squeeze: “Oregon hospitals on Wednesday had just 41 adult intensive care beds available statewide. That’s 6 percent of the state’s total supply of 652 intensive care beds. Availability varies from hospital to hospital and region to region. Some hospitals, especially in southern Oregon, are entirely out of intensive care beds.”
Washington state is also “near the breaking point” from the demand for hospital beds. Despite 170 million people vaccinated, tens of millions more having acquired natural immunity in the past 18 months, and tens of millions of children rarely needing hospital treatment for COVID, we still haven’t reached enough of a threshold of herd immunity to ease the pressure on ERs and ICUs. Many of the prominent idiot COVID skeptics who’ve repeatedly predicted from the start that herd immunity is forever just around the corner are also idiot vaccine skeptics ensuring that there remains a solid supply of non-immune Americans for Delta to burn through. Mandates will help solve that problem, but only to a degree.