The key to stopping the spread of the coronavirus through the distribution of a vaccine is getting enough people to take it so the community develops a herd immunity.
For that to happen, it will take at least 75 percent to 85 percent of New Yorkers willing to get the shot – or about 11 million to 13 million adults in the state.
While many people will be anxious to get the vaccine and potentially spare themselves the ill effects of getting the virus, many people will be understandably hesitant.
The vaccines are mostly an unknown quantity, and their long-term effects haven’t been identified. The development process for the vaccines has been expedited. The approval process is being conducted under an emergency declaration. And many people are just reluctant to trust any vaccine, much less one so new.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t get the vaccine. They should. A vaccine is necessary to stop this panemic. It’s just that there are many who will be hesitant.
National polls have shown that only 50% to around 60% of Americans are willing to get the vaccine right now. While the numbers are growing that’s well below 75-85%.
Even with the promise of getting this disease under control and helping America return to some degree of normalcy, it’s going to be tough enough to convince enough New Yorkers to get the covid vaccine.
The last thing we need right now is to scare any people off by introducing the concept of making the vaccine mandatory.
State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal has introduced a bill (A11179) that would permit the state Health Department to require vaccines for all individuals who are “clinically determined to be safe to receive it.” According to the bill, the requirement would kick in if “public health officials” determine that state residents “are not developing sufficient immunity.”
First off, the concept of mandatory vaccinations for everyone will deter people solely on the principle of the government mandating they be required to inject anything into their bodies without their consent.
Secondly, there is a historic degree of mistrust associated with vaccinations, particularly among the Black and Hispanic community, whose populations are disproportionately affected by the covid virus and who are most in need of being vaccinated.
Mandating vaccinations will only add to that mistrust and potentially discourage people from getting it.
The other issue is with the legislation itself. It’s deliberately vague, and that’s not a good thing.
For instance, how will we know when this mandatory vaccination will be triggered? What constitutes the period when the state fails to achieve “sufficient immunity,” who will make that determination, and how?
Also, the bill says people can get exemptions from the mandatory vaccine from a “licensed medical professional.” But what does that mean? That could be anyone from a medical doctor to a psychiatrist to an EMT. Who will be allowed to grant the exemptions and how will a person’s eligibility for an exemption be determined?
Finally, the bill doesn’t say exactly how they’re going to actually compel people to take the vaccine.
Rosenthal said in an interview Thursday on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom that the state was “not going to come in the middle of the night and pull someone out of bed and give them the covid vaccine.”
But she didn’t say how, exactly, someone would be forced to get a shot.
She also said the bill was not meant to be punitive, meaning there’s no legal mechanism in place or penalties for compelling people to get the vaccine. It’s hard to enforce a mandatory anything without consequences.
She also didn’t say how the state was going to enforce the mandate with vulnerable populations that are often hard to track down.
Also, since people will likely need to get vaccinated at least once a year, and possibly twice, is this mandate going to be in place for years and enforced each time someone doesn’t go in for a booster?
Down the road, the state could certainly require certain people to get shots as a condition of employment or education, just like MMR shots are required for students to attend public school.
The state could also require anyone who deals directly with medical patients to get the shot as a condition for licensing.
But a broad requirement that all New Yorkers get vaccinated seems beyond the state’s authority and ability.
Better than introducing some kind of mandatory action, the state and federal governments should invest heavily in an educational campaign to promote the need, benefit and safety of the vaccines.
We know vaccines work to stem the spread of horrible diseases. Do you have smallpox or mumps or chickenpox? No? Ever wonder why?
It won’t be hard to reach medical professionals and people in long-term care facilities. Officials will need to target the general population, particularly those in minority and in poorer areas where people might not be as aware of the availability of the vaccine and of its benefits.
State officials also need to work to ensure that the vaccine is readily available in areas where people are more likely to get the virus and who don’t have regular access to medical care or pharmacies.
It would be best for society if everyone got the vaccine and we could bring this tragic period in our history to a close.
But a mandate from the state very well could do more harm than good.