Vaccine Mandates are necessary for public health and safety

The Rojas campaign supports the City’s vaccine mandate for educators, school staff, hospital and nursing-home workers. It is perfectly appropriate given that the populations served in such institutions are generally high-risk or in the case of children, unvaccinated.

No one should have to go into a school, a hospital, or nursing home with any fear about whether those inside are vaccinated. The government also has the responsibility to ensure that the public’s engagement with state institutions and agencies, which is itself often mandatory, does not pose unnecessary health risks.  

Since last year, over 34,000 New Yorkers perished on account of COVID-19. It is estimated that over 17,000 lives could have been saved had Trump, Cuomo and De Blasio responded just one week earlier in announcing lockdowns, and properly heeded the urgent recommendations from the World Health Organization. Had the vaccine rollout likewise not been so slow and disorganized, a broader immunity could have been achieved before Delta began ravaging the country. The government response has been indecisive and uncoordinated throughout. 

Vaccinated people can become infected with and transmit COVID, that is true. But it is obvious that the vaccines work at dramatically lowering hospitalization and death rates, helping the city avoid a repeat of the atrocious scenes of overflowing emergency rooms and makeshift morgues. Moreover, there is compelling scientific evidence that the vaccines reduce the average transmissibility of the disease because they shorten the period that one is contagious. 

The government has not just an interest but a responsibility in protecting public health, which in this case — as with other mandatory childhood vaccines — supersede individual medical decisions.

In some countries, vaccine mandates are being developed with exceptions for those who have proof of prior COVID infection. Evidence suggests that “natural immunity” is equal or superior to that provided by some vaccines. The problem is that in the United States, the public health and treatment system is so woefully inadequate that a large number of people were never diagnosed, or self-diagnosed because they could not even receive COVID tests when sick, and were told not to go to urgent care or hospitals unless they were having trouble breathing. So such an exception, requiring proof of prior infection, is unworkable here.

Most of all, the mandate is legitimate because the vaccines are safe. Mandates and indoor-dining passports do not substantively erode civil liberties nor do they give new technological surveillance capabilities to the government that they do not already have. 

While some say the right to refuse a vaccine is a worker’s rights issue, this minimizes the fact that front-line workers have died at the highest rates throughout this crisis. The worker has a right to a safe workplace — which at this means working alongside vaccinated managers, coworkers, clients and customers. We have seen many restaurant workers themselves closely scrutinizing customers’ vaccine cards when they enter because they intend to enforce this right.

Our campaign does believe that workers should receive additional paid time days off to deal with the potential short-term side effects of taking the vaccine. It is only fair to offer this as part of any mandate.

We reject the corporate media’s narrative that conflates vaccine hesitancy with Black America. While Black Americans and other oppressed people have legitimate reasons to distrust the government, given this country’s history, major strides have been made in vaccination rates among oppressed groups, including the Black community. This is  especially so since vaccines became available to people ages 12 and older. 

As of Sept. 28th in New York City, African Americans make up 24.5% of people who received at least 1 shot of the vaccine, disproportionately lower than the overall makeup of the 15+ age population (27.3%). Notably, these numbers are roughly the same as white people in New York City (46% and 53%, respectively). In the Bronx, African Americans make up 43.7% of the 15+ age population and 55% of people with at least one shot. (Source: NYS health vaccine demographic data)

The truth is that working-class New Yorkers, including Black and Latino communities, are getting vaccinated in increased numbers because they have been the most impacted by COVID-19, most affected by the resulting economic crisis and most neglected by the government. Now that the international community of scientists, from the broadest range of governments of every ideological and political persuasion, has reached a unanimous consensus that these vaccines are safe, we must harness this as a tool to save lives here in the U.S. and around the world. 

It is a travesty that large parts of the world still have no access to the vaccine, even as Delta ravages their countries. The U.S. government and Big Pharma corporations have pursued nationalistic and profit-centered responses that have caused and exacerbated these problems, causing a form of global vaccine apartheid. The government of New York City, as a global city, has a responsibility to lead the way in demanding that the vaccine be made publicly available worldwide, with all intellectual property restrictions lifted.