The deaths of more than 610,000 Americans from COVID — more than virtually every United States war — makes using military analogies appropriate. Our war plan against the virus must have two key elements build strong defenses and don’t help the enemy by giving the virus too many uncontested shots at infecting us.
We are fortunate to have highly effective COVID vaccines, but we are not close to community level immunity now, or in the near term. There are concrete steps we — as a society, and not just through government — can and must take to increase the level of vaccination. In addition, to assure community safety we must get more people to access and use better masks to protect the wearer and those in their social circle.
A national vaccine mandate sounds simple and tempting in the face of the Delta variant but lacks a compelling federal legal rationale. A dispute about a national government mandate also risks a counterproductive backlash.
Moreover, current evidence (polls and interviews) suggests such a step could be less effective that other steps by employers and retailers. A material number of Americans — by some estimates, 25 million — are likely to get vaccinated if required by their employers, or if restaurants, retailers, bars and entertainment venues require vaccination or strict testing as a condition of entry. Taking this action has the support of bipartisan public health leaders under the auspices of COVID safe zones.
The onus to act is on the private sector, but the following actions by government will make success more likely.
1. Encourage and facilitate vaccination programs by employers and institutions, including educational entities with eligible vaccine recipients, by assuring FDA makes a prompt, science-based decision on whether to fully approve and authorize the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J COVID vaccines.
2. Provide human resources and financial assistance to make sure employees get paid time off to get vaccinated.
3. Publicize that vaccinations are FREE — and make free, high-quality masks available at post offices, grocery stores and drug stores.
4. Facilitate, via the FDA, rapid review for “Emergency Use Authorization “ (EUA) based on sound science of COVID vaccine use by youth over 5.