Three Cheers for Vaccine Mandates

President Joe Biden has announced a requirement that federal workers get vaccinated against Covid-19 or be frequently tested and face other restrictions. He’s right — and other governments and businesses should likewise require vaccination for their employees. With the delta variant racing through the unvaccinated population, mandates are more essential than ever.

The delta variant is far more transmissible than earlier variants, and produces an exceptionally high viral load. This is true even when it infects vaccinated people, as it sometimes does. This means that even vaccinated people can sometimes pass the delta variant along to others — including unvaccinated children and people with compromised immune systems.

This is why the Centers for Disease Control has changed its mask guidance — to recommend that, in schools and in parts of the country with significant community transmission, even the vaccinated wear masks indoors. But it’s also why vaccine mandates are needed more than ever. The delta variant, along with widespread vaccine refusal, has made it more dangerous for people who have gotten their shots to be in contact with people who haven’t.

The problem won’t solve itself. Resistance to vaccination isn’t fading. Imploring people to behave responsibly hasn’t worked well enough. The U.S. has plenty of vaccine to go around, yet a third of eligible Americans still haven’t gotten their first dose, and vaccination centers stand empty.

So it’s good that more and more such mandates are being imposed. Proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test will soon be required for public employees in California, New York state and and New York City. Hundreds of colleges demand that students, faculty and staff have their shots. Corporate America is beginning to follow suit. Vaccines will be mandatory for all Veterans Affairs health-care personnel. And the American Medical Association and dozens of other health-care groups have called for universal vaccine mandates at hospitals, clinics and other health-care settings. 

Unfortunately, some politicians are pushing back. Republicans in Congress have tried to amend the federal spending bill to ban funds for schools that mandate vaccines, vaccine lotteries, and door-to-door efforts to encourage people to get their shots. State legislators are working to forbid vaccine mandates, calling it a matter of civil rights. They say businesses, schools and other institutions should no more be allowed to discriminate against people because of their vaccination status than because of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

The parallel is absurd. Governments have a duty to protect public health, and refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is not a matter of identity. It’s a preference — and one that puts others at risk.

The U.S. is again reporting more than 50,000 Covid cases a day, up from about 10,000 a month ago. Things are worse in states with lower rates of vaccination, of course, but it’s increasingly urgent everywhere that businesses and institutions require their employees to be vaccinated. Face-to-face businesses such as shops and restaurants should also ask their customers for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. Mandates are the fastest way to protect the vulnerable and induce “wait and see” stragglers to get their shots — not sometime, but now.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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