In what will probably become a worldwide trend, the rise in cases brought on by the Delta variant in the US is spurring new calls for employers to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for their workers, and some are starting to follow through.
There was a flurry of activity around vaccines in the US on Monday, with California and New York City announcing mandates for government employees, or else weekly testing, The Hill is reporting.
The enormous Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate the vaccine, focusing on its frontline health care workers.
And over 50 health care organisations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, called on employers to mandate the vaccine for all health care workers, and for other employers, not just those in health care, to “follow our lead”.
The push comes as cases, deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19 are rising again due to the more transmissible Delta variant, and as number of people getting vaccinated has slowed significantly.
Many experts think mandates from employers are the key to boosting vaccination rates and slowing the new surge, which is overwhelmingly affecting the unvaccinated.
Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical expert at the University of Pennsylvania who was a health care adviser in the Obama White House, said that despite vaccines being free and widely available in the US, and the president pleading with people to get vaccinated, “we’re still just shy of 50% of the population vaccinated”.
Experts are concerned that outbreaks will continue getting worse unless a significantly higher percentage of the population is vaccinated.
The risk is overwhelmingly to unvaccinated people, but a small number of vaccinated people will still get sick, and there are society-wide effects like overcrowded hospitals.
Also, the more the virus spreads, the more chance there is for new variants to develop that could evade vaccines.
“It’s clear that gentle persuasion did not achieve the vax rate we need to defeat Covid,” Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco tweeted. “Yes, the politics are hard, but dying is worse, as is re-tanking the economy. It’s time for vaccine mandates – nothing else gets us where we need to go.”
“It’s clear that right now the Delta variant has the upper hand, and we think it’s time to ask employers to require their employees to be vaccinated as the next step,” Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday, “We’re at a point in this pandemic, where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated, is now impacting the rest of us, in a devastating and deadly way.”
Some experts are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to move faster to fully approve Covid-19 vaccines, which could make employers more confident in mandating the vaccine.
“We know these vaccines are safe and effective,” Bailey said. “We don’t think we need to wait for that administrative action to go ahead and recommend mandates for vaccines.”
The US is now averaging about 50,000 cases per day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That’s up from around 13,000 at the end of June, though far below last winter’s peak of around 250,000, before vaccines were widely available. Deaths are also inching back up to around 240 per day.
While cases are going up, vaccinations are going down. The country is averaging about 600,000 shots per day, down from over three million per day in April, according to Our World in Data.
Still, there has been a small recent uptick in vaccinations, as the White House hopes news of the Delta variant threat spurs more people to get shots. The number of people getting their first shot is up 24% from the previous week, according to the White House.
“Still not enough patients have been vaccinated to keep the case rates from going up,” said Bailey.