On Thursday, President Joe Biden took bold new steps to defeat the resurgent pandemic — by strengthening the COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors, pushing big private companies to impose mandates of their own, and announcing a series of other initiatives.
He was right to act, and these measures deserve wide support.
It’s good that more than 62 percent of Americans 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but tens of millions are still vulnerable. If infected, they’re at risk of severe illness. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all risen in recent weeks. The pandemic is not yet under control, even though the best means of bringing it under control — vaccination — is readily at hand.
The country needed Biden to take the initiative. Now that he has, all Americans should do their part to conquer this scourge.
The president announced that some 4 million federal workers will soon have to be vaccinated or face disciplinary action. It remains to be seen whether the sanctions will include termination — but they should, where workers refuse vaccination without a good medical or religious reason. (Some private firms have made vaccination a condition of employment, and there’s no reason why the federal government should treat its employees differently.) In a move extending to some 80 million people, Biden added that U.S. companies with at least 100 workers will be told to insist on shots or weekly COVID-19 testing. If they don’t comply, they’ll face fines. The new measures include work to provide booster shots to strengthen immunity; plans to keep schools open and safe; efforts to increase testing and use of masks; new economic supports, especially for small businesses; and further efforts to help hospitals and improve treatments.
Hospitals and colleges across the country, as well as a large swath of corporate America, have already moved to adopt vaccine mandates. This approach has worked, pushing many more people to get their shots. Meanwhile, progress across the country as a whole has been slow. The number of Americans inoculated can and should be higher than the current 800,000 a day.
Critics of mandates can be expected to push back. They say they should be free to do as they judge best, deciding for themselves whether to take their chances with COVID. But the consequences of their decisions aren’t confined to them. The safety of others is compromised. The longer COVID is allowed to circulate, the greater the pandemic’s toll will be. Hospitals risk being overwhelmed, forcing them to ration care, including for those sick through no fault of their own. All the while, the coronavirus is left free to mutate.
Biden seems to have the support of federal workers’ unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest — and that’s encouraging.
Many other national unions also support vaccine mandates, including the American Federation of Teachers and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
But some local unions still resist. Police unions in Portland, Chicago and many other cities are opposed. In New York, many municipal unions are against the city’s pending mandate. Even some health-care unions have fought hospital mandates.
And unions representing professional athletes, including the NFL players’ association, have also dug in their heels.
There’s political resistance as well, of course, which is only to be expected in an America so bitterly divided into partisan camps.
Nothing is more important than mending these divisions, at least so far as the pandemic is concerned.
Biden’s opponents ought to stop and think. His initiative should unite the country in a new determination to defeat its common enemy.
— Bloomberg Opinion