As coronavirus cases surge, hospitalizations rise, and deaths tick up — mostly among the unvaccinated — the national conversation has returned to familiar controversies over public health measures like getting people shots and getting them to cover their faces again.
But with the Delta variant tearing mostly through those who haven’t gotten shots, a new twist also has emerged. Could the latest trend by dubbed, “enough is enough?” Patience with the resistant and reluctant — a little under half the U.S. population — may be running out.
The largest hospital association in the country told its members that it is past time to require health workers to get vaccinated. These valuable individuals already work under mandates for other inoculations and the latest coronavirus surge, which could result in spiking deaths in the fall, is cause enough for a vaccination mandate, the group said.
That put the association in line with a rising number of hospitals and health systems that are mandating coronavirus shots and disciplining and firing staff who will not get vaccinated. Such personnel actions already have been upheld by courts.
A federal judge in Indiana, meantime, rejected a student lawsuit, ruling that the state university can mandate coronavirus vaccinations for staff and young people studying in the public institution in the fall.
IU joins an array of private institutions of higher education as well as the giant University of California system in mandating vaccinations for students and staff. The UCs had said they would wait and hope for the federal Food and Drug Administration to give its full approval, and not just emergency authorization, to vaccines before requiring them.
But surging coronavirus cases in California, especially among steadily younger patients — too many of them considering themselves invincible and dismissing the real perils of sustained harms from “long covid” infections — convinced leaders of the university system to act now.
A GOP flip-flop on vaccinations
In an even more startling turnabout, extreme Republican politicians and conservative media personalities have started to flip-flop, and, without explanation, they are giving up their harsh rhetoric opposing vaccines. Instead, they are urging supporters — who are among those most likely to suffer the coronavirus’ worst harms as outbreaks rage in places like Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana (see Mayo Clinic state-by-state hot spots map, above) — to get vaccinated.
But after months of downplaying the potential damages of the virus and bellowing against vaccinations, face coverings, and other public health measures targeted at the coronavirus, will the unvaccinated change course? Unlikely, suggests public opinion polling.
A poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% of unvaccinated adults contacted said they probably won’t get a shot, while 45% said they definitely would not. Just 3% told pollsters they would get vaccinated, with another 6% saying they probably will.
A replay on consternation over face coverings
Frustration and anger have become palpable among the vaccinated about the pandemic surge and the return in increasing numbers of places of public health measures like face coverings.
Public health officials say they, too, were dismayed about having to urge all people to cover their faces indoors. But this simple step has been correlated with big declines in community spread of the disease, protecting the unvaccinated and slashing at the occurrence of new cases and hospitalizations.
With children younger than 12 ineligible for now to get vaccinated, the American Academy of Pediatrics has offered more bracing guidance than federal officials, telling parents that all kids should wear face coverings and maintain distances when they go back to school in person and in just a few weeks.
As for the vaccinated, they also benefit from face covering and distancing because vaccines cannot offer 100% protection from coronavirus infection. This is especially so, as the aggressive and fast-spreading delta variant takes hold. Estimates vary as to the number and severity of “breakthrough” infections. But officials say the cases remain rare — just an estimated 200 incidents, for example, among 375,000 vaccinated residents of Washington, D.C.
Vaccines offer excellent protection against cases serious enough to cause hospitalization or death. Still, contracting the coronavirus can be unpleasant and incapacitating, offering a reason for the vaccinated to don masks. The coverings also can help them avert asymptomatic spread of the disease.
Federal, state, and local officials, as well as doctors, hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies continue their campaigns to make vaccines as easy to get as possible. In some areas, like hard-hit Los Angeles County, residents can even call a well-publicized public health telephone number and have medical personnel arrive at their door to administer the vaccine.
While nations around the globe clamor for increased vaccine supplies, the United States finds itself in the embarrassing position that so many of its citizens are declining a lifesaving treatment that states are sitting on millions of doses that are fast approaching their current expiration dates. Officials may extend the shelf life on the medicine without harm — but not forever, experts say.
The National Football League has taken a novel and tough approach to apply peer pressure to its unvaccinated players. The league said it will continue aggressive testing in the upcoming season. If a coronavirus outbreak occurs among unvaccinated players and staff resulting in the cancelation of a game and it cannot be rescheduled, the team with the outbreak will be hit with a forfeit-loss (and its opponent with a win) and may be subject to added penalties. Neither team’s players will be paid for the missed contest.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by an array of awful circumstances and things, including:
In these cases, a crowd of problem people and institutions — these can include doctors, hospitals, insurers, regulators, and politicians — may press victims to move on, settle up, and they fast forget the lonely agony of the suffering. It can, however, take a long time for patients to recover from terrible illness or injury. Harms can last a lifetime. Patients may need medical services, as well as financial and other support for months or years. They also need closure and justice for wrongs done, as well as the sense that they may be able to help others avoid the problems that afflicted them.
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. Please get vaccinated. All medical interventions carry risk. But vaccines’ benefits long have been shown to far outweigh their harms.