Should Anti-Vaccine Workers Be Laid Off?
Written by Elizabeth Katanov
Edited by Ishraq Nihal
“Last year’s heroes are this year’s unemployed,” reads the sign of a protestor outside of a NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) hospital in Upper East Manhattan. On Wednesday, September 1st, some NYP hospital workers protested against the mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine, joining a growing number of anti-vaccine mandate rallies across healthcare facilities in the United States. NewYork-Presbyterian was the first hospital organization in New York state to mandate vaccinations for all hospital staff, releasing a formal announcement in June. As the September 15th deadline for the first shot is approaching, anti-vaccine hospital employees face a dilemma: get the vaccine, or lose their job.
Since the vaccine mandate for hospital workers was first announced, the spread of the COVID-19 Delta Variant has only become a more significant threat to public health. Studies show that those with the Delta variant are significantly more likely to be hospitalized than those infected with previous COVID-19 strands (Sheikh et al. 2021). As such, hospital workers are at an increased risk of contracting this new variant and spreading it to other patients. Fully vaccinated people, however, have been shown to spread the virus for less time than unvaccinated people (CDC).
Besides making the delta variant less transmissible, the vaccine also seems to effectively prevent hospitalization due to the contraction of COVID-19 and its variants. According to Dr. Kathi Kemper of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, over 90 percent of those hospitalized and dying with COVID-19 are unvaccinated (Healthline 2021).
From the perspective of healthcare administrations and public policymakers nationwide, mandating vaccinations against COVID-19 may be the only way to prevent future lockdowns and further death. However, to some Americans, it seems like an invasion of privacy and contrary to their concept of liberty. Hospital employees refusing vaccinations now point out the hypocrisy of being called heroes while working in COVID-19 wards last year with no vaccine protection, and now having those same positions threatened for choosing not to get the vaccine.
On August 23rd, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, making it the first COVID vaccine not to be administered under Emergency Use Authorization. Although this may sway Americans worried about the vaccine not being FDA approved, many remain unfazed by this news, claiming that the development is too rushed. Those who oppose the vaccine cite various reasons for their choice, ranging from the uncertainty of long-term effects to wanting to exercise their right to wait until they feel comfortable.
Many unvaccinated people now reference a new Israeli study that shows natural immunity is likely “more protective against infections of the delta variant than a full vaccination regime” (The Wire). Although Israel has been a world leader in vaccinating its citizens, they do not require both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who have recovered and gained some form of natural immunity. This dissonance with American protocol, which calls for full vaccination regardless of previous contact with COVID-19, also causes vaccine hesitation amongst those who previously contracted COVID-19.
Alternatively, the role of the media in encouraging Americans to get vaccinated may be deterring the “anti-vax” population further. Seeing constant advertisements for the vaccination creates the feeling of “brainwashing” sentiment for this group of people. When individuals feel coerced into action, they experience all the more repulsion towards complying. For the people who have yet to take the vaccine, the constant reminders of the vaccines show that getting vaccinated has become more about social acceptance and less about mitigating the spread of a potentially deadly virus. The social ramifications for refusing a vaccine (being denied entry into certain spaces, being perceived as scientifically behind, etc.) starts to hold significantly more meaning than the scientifically supported data in favor of getting vaccinated.
To allow for a safe reopening of the United States and other countries, we must consider how this “othering” has happened and mitigate the tension and misinformation with education regarding how vaccines work and why vaccination is important. In this way, the undecided people feel it is in the best interest of their liberties, not against, to protect themselves and others against COVID-19 with the safest option available.
But what of healthcare workers? Surely, being on the frontlines makes them aware of the severity of COVID-19. And yet, some choose to risk contracting the virus and even potentially spreading it to patients (Northeastern 2021). This action would seem to be in direct contrast to the goal of healthcare employees. On the other hand, if some are worried for their personal safety, they shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their peace of mind.
Although mandatory vaccinations are the most effective way to protect all staff against COVID-19, it may be possible to expose remaining unvaccinated people to arguments that convince them to get the shots without imposing restrictions. This impediment would include mandatory informational training regarding the history of vaccines, a crash course on how they work, data supporting their efficiency concerning COVID-19, and a section dispelling myths regarding vaccination. After this course is complete, workers should then be able to choose whether or not they want to get vaccinated and, if not, provide a logical, valid reason. In this alternative format, people would be directly presented with facts to make an informed decision, as opposed to arguably unethical mandates.
It would seem the psychological effects of imposing regulations are detrimental to the vaccination rates in many settings across the United States. By threatening individuals with their jobs, institutions may be driving overall trust in professional advice to an all-time low. Government intervention would be most beneficial by imposing proper education regarding vaccination and allowing citizens to make their choice based on the information presented. Allowing citizens to choose whether or not to be vaccinated would eliminate the fear that political leaders are stripping ordinary people of their free will, while also progressing society towards a future more trusting in science.
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