Can We Agree? Mandates Are a Dirty Word | Steve Berman

The FDA finally gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after 202 milliondoses have been administered in the U.S. alone, far ahead of Moderna and J&J/Janssen. After June, the rate of American vaccinations flattened and has not recovered. A piece of paper issued by the government, it appears, is not going to motivate many employers to mandate vaccines.

A mix of fear and caution is driving our reaction. David Thornton offered kudos to former President Donald Trump for enduring the boos of his own rally crowd in Alabama when he publicly advocated getting vaccinated, and said “it’s good.”

It’s unlikely that even Trump’s advocacy of the vaccines he touted so boldly in Operation Warp Speed will spur many people who are reticent to take the shots, to now go out and get one.

Even the death of Nashville-based radio talk show host Phil Valentine, who contracted COVID-19 after expressing skepticism over the vaccines, then reversed, telling his brother if he got back on the radio, he’d urge his listeners to get vaccinated, hasn’t provoked a wave of people rushing to get their shots.

There’s such a degree of head-in-the-sand, it’s-not-going-to-be-me self delusion about COVID-19 that people who should get vaccinated, if only to protect themselves from dying if they do get a breakthrough case, are choosing to take their chances, and some of them are dying.

The effect this has on employers is many blue-collar companies refuse to mandate the vaccines. They need employees to physically show up for work, and many, if the company decided to force vaccination, would simply quit.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Front-line workers at plants are divided over a vaccine requirement, despite some worrying if enough is being done to protect their health.” Some manufacturers are offering cash or other incentives (these have varying, but not enormous, levels of success) for workers getting the vaccine.

Big companies like Tyson Foods are requiring nearly all workers to be vaccinated by November 1. Many workers fear getting COVID-19, and don’t want to work in an unprotected environment, while many others fear getting the vaccine. Still others are hard-core refuseniks who also reject mask wearing and social distancing. It creates a stressful work environment.

Among educators, two University of North Georgia lecturers have resigned over vaccine mandates, because Georgia’s university system has not mandated vaccines for students or staff. They simply refuse to teach. Contrast that with Emory University, a private school, which is mandating vaccines for student and faculty.

Human Resource professionals are struggling with an increasingly divided workforce. Per the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest employment law missive:

In addition to legally protected reasons [such as medical and religious objections], employees may have general objections to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination that do not require a reasonable accommodation. “Employers considering mandating vaccines should give very serious consideration to this issue,” said Brett Coburn, an attorney with Alston & Bird in Atlanta. If a significant portion of the workforce refuses to comply, the employer may be put in the very difficult position of either adhering to the mandate and terminating all of these employees, or deviating from the mandate for certain employees, which Coburn said can increase the risk of discrimination claims.

Employers with just a few hundred employees can’t afford to terminate half the workforce, but also can’t afford to have half the workforce stay out of work because of fear of COVID-19, or—worse—contract COVID-19 and be out for quarantine, or even, sadly, die.

The problem is not going to go away quickly, because Americans were led to believe that COVID-19 was conquerable by vaccines. We were led to believe that the medical establishment isn’t doing everything it can to fight COVID-19, and even covering up some “cures.” At the same time, we were led to believe that anti-vaxxers and vaccine refuseniks are completely to blame for our current surge.

In case you’re keeping track, none of these things is true. The surge would come even if we achieved President Biden’s national 70 percent vaccination goal. The Delta variant is just too easily spread and the vaccines are not completely effective against it spreading. However, the vaccines (and I’ll say this a million times if I have to) will keep people from dying from COVID-19.

When Americans talk about mandates, we first have to fight through the untruths on both sides of the issue.

The best way to deal with this divide is to respect everyone and know that every pair of eyes you look into is the face of a person passionately loved by God. If someone is reticent about getting the vaccines, love them and respect them. If someone is fully convinced the vaccines are the Mark of the Beast, love them. If someone blames the unvaccinated for the current surge, love them. 

We need reasons to agree—that COVID-19 is not something anyone wants to catch, that people who do contract is deserve dignity, care, and love. We need to try to understand and care for each other with compassion, empathy, respect, and love. If we can manage that, and not hold out for our own preferred outcome, then I think America will get through this.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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