As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to weigh in on the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for employers, and new cases of COVID-19 grow with a more contagious variant, businesses don’t know of course not what to do. But even with legal battles complicating implementation, the benefit is still simple: Vaccination mandates help save lives.
Continued hesitation only delays a safer return to normal and increases the risk of new variants that could delay recovery even further.
One year after the availability of the first vaccines, the vaccination rate in the United States has stabilized and remains stubbornly consistent although it varies from state to state – 68% of Washington residents are fully vaccinated, for example, compared to 46% in neighboring Idaho, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At this point in the pandemic, with an economic recovery still fragile and more than 800,000 Americans killed by COVID, it seems incredible that there are still holdouts, but the solution is not to view millions as inaccessible. This is all the more true as the pandemic requires a common response and cannot be overcome by individual responsibility alone.
So what can we do? It is high time to admit that no amount of information, no recognition of the damage the virus can cause, will convince those who can get vaccinated but have so far refused to do the right thing. This leaves the vaccination mandates by employers as one of the few effective tools remaining to increase the vaccination rate.
When the choice is between hitting the road or pulling, many people become more willing to protect public health.
However, on their own, the response from companies has been mixed. For every Microsoft that requires all employees to be vaccinated, you have Boeing, which recently gave up its own tenure after some workers were turned down.
For every United Airlines, which has seen overwhelming compliance with its vaccines required, you have Amazon, which hesitated and hesitated even though it was using 1 in 169 American workers and where a mandate could have a huge impact.
With many companies reluctant to act, the Biden administration vaccine or test warrant aimed at large employers offers the best way forward. It would add more than 20 million people to the vaccinated lists and avoid 250,000 hospitalizations over six months, according to the White House.
The measure has been linked to legal challenges, but a recent ruling by the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals has allowed it to move forward. Opponents have appealed and the Supreme Court will hear arguments next week.
Keeping the federal mandate would be the wisest choice, but even if it is rescinded, companies must act and demand vaccines for their employees and regular testing for the unvaccinated.
Their workers – and everyone else – will continue to be at risk if they do nothing.