By Siddharth Gundapaneni
For a significant period of time, all employers in New York City, public or private, required mandated vaccination against COVID-19 for all their employees. Mayor Bill DeBlasio championed the “Vaccine Key to New York City” program, requiring proof of vaccination for those at least five years of age in order to utilize indoor dining, gyms and other fitness areas, and entertainment spaces. This included but was not limited to: movie theaters, concert venues, sports arenas, hotels, and museums.
The stated intention for this was improving public safety while deterring refusal to get vaccinated. While nothing is objectively flawed with such intentions (though I may suspect ulterior motives) the outcome of the ensuing, coercive policies were counterintuitive.
The Vaccine Key to New York City leaves unvaccinated people with three options:
1) Get vaccinated so they can partake in regular activities. 2) Stay at home isolated and deal with the consequences of being unable to engage in said activities. Or 3) Find different activities or illegal workarounds with other unvaccinated people in a similar situation.
Although the first option may seem like the obvious choice to many, I ask that you think from the perspective of someone that is still unvaccinated—whether you think their rationale is justified or not—as they are a person as well.
If their opposition to the vaccine is so strong that option 1 is off the table, option 2 is highly unlikely to occur, as the vast majority of people would not comply with these mandates either. Therefore option 3 is all that’s left, and that is what contributes to us not reaching herd immunity.
For those unfamiliar, herd immunity is the concept that once a population has a high enough vaccinated population, collateral protection is present for those who are not vaccinated or naturally immune to the virus through prior infection.
In regards to a 90% vaccination rate against measles, mumps, and rubella among children, a Johns Hopkins study in September stated, “This level of vaccination provides protection to the population as a whole—even to those who aren’t vaccinated—by decreasing viral circulation and the chance someone who is unvaccinated will encounter the virus.“ This course of action can be replicated, to an extent not yet accepted by a consensus, when dealing with Covid-19.
The most efficacious way of decreasing the risk of an unvaccinated person encountering the virus, is by them being around more vaccinated people. The same goal can theoretically be achieved through natural immunity, although that has not served to be as effective with Covid-19. It is ambiguous as to how long natural immunity protects one from getting sick again, though data drawn from a well-received study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases seems to show that said period is up to 11 months following recovery. It is important to keep in mind that natural immunity is said to offer much less consistent protection from person to person, compared to vaccination.
Thus, while herd Immunity can eventually protect the population that simply refuses to get vaccinated, we still must emphasize vaccination as much as we can. Higher vaccination rates will obstruct the virus from replicating within its host for longer durations, which allow the virus to mutate and form new variants. Expecting everyone to get Covid-19 within the next two years is unlikely to provide enough protection as the medical community would hope.
Now you may be wondering why advocacy against Covid vaccine mandates is still relevant. Many government imposed vaccine mandates across the nation have been reversed, and public health officials seem to be finally moving past Covid-19. That said, another deadly wave of COVID (horribile dictu), let alone a new epidemic, policy makers and public health officials must know what was done wrong.
Despite the supposed well-intentions, vaccine mandates such as the one initiated in New York City essentially segregated the unvaccinated populations from those that received their vaccine and are now living quasi-normal lives. If we are to strive for a fairer future, mandates like this are to be avoided.
All that being said, this piece does not argue the ethics of a vaccine mandate, nor whether the government should be able to impose such a mandate. Rather, I contend that even under the consequential grounds used by public health officials and policy makers, such vaccine mandates were an unfruitful policy.