Hiltzik: The truth about threats to quit because of COVID vaccines
As immunization mandates have spread across the public and private sectors, threats of mass resignations have also spread.
Reports of these pushbacks have always been suspect, but lately, specific figures have emerged.
The bottom line is that the warrants may have prompted the resignation of a few hundred workers in protest here and there – but they also prompted thousands to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
When vaccine needs are announced, … attention is paid to the dozens of people protesting. Less attention is paid to the thousands of people who get vaccinated.
Andy Slavitt, Former Medicare Chief
In other words, immunization mandates are working.
You may not know this because of the excessive media coverage given to the protests against the warrants. We recently covered this phenomenon as it applies to the over-reporting of small groups of noisy extremists in the political sphere.
We have also expressed doubts about how many workers will commit to quitting rather than getting vaccinated once the threat of losing their paychecks becomes real.
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The news media adore stories of individuals struggling against majority rule, even when their position is wrong or, as in the case of vaccine resistors, a danger to themselves and their neighbors. Those who are doing the right thing don’t have that much airtime.
Andy Slavitt, former director of Medicare and Medicaid (under Obama) and pandemic adviser to President Biden, emphasizes this point.
“When vaccine needs are announced, whether in the army, a business or a hospital, special attention is paid to the dozens of people who protest.” he tweeted on Monday. “We pay less attention to the thousands of people who get vaccinated. (Slavitt is also the author of “Preventable,” a must-read book on how the United States has missed multiple opportunities to bring the pandemic under control.)
Acceptance of vaccination at the state and country level could be significantly higher if more publicity was given to successful efforts to get vaccines into arms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64.4% of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 55.4% are fully vaccinated.
However, the rate is much lower in some states. In Mississippi, for example, just under 50% of the total population is fully vaccinated – the fourth worst rate in the country, ahead of only Wyoming, West Virginia and Idaho. But the University of Mississippi football team is 100% vaccinated, thanks to a powerful persuasive effort from head coach Lane Kiffin.
Boston College and the University of Arizona are the only other teams in the top five NCAA football programs to report 100% vaccination.
About five of the teams ranked in the top 10 by the Associated Press say they have achieved a vaccination rate of 90% or more. The incentives for their coaches and players are simple: COVID-19 outbreaks can result in canceled matches and losses by default.
A lesson learned from the real toll of resignations during terms of office is that speaking is cheap, but action is expensive. Promises to quit are common, but when the going goes, the majority of holdouts get their chance.
So let’s see how the vaccination mandates work. To begin with, let us note that these mandates are getting tougher.
Just this week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul stepped on her order that all healthcare workers must receive at least one injection by Monday or face dismissal.
Hochul’s order did not include an escape clause allowing workers to undergo regular testing instead of being vaccinated.
Hochul was prepared to allow professionals licensed by other states or countries to practice in New York if the tenure caused staff shortages. His administration also warned that healthcare workers sacked for flouting the ordinance would not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Northwell Health, New York City’s largest private hospital system, said it laid off about two dozen workers on Monday for refusing to be vaccinated. They were the last holdouts among a few hundred unvaccinated workers who had been warned to meet the state deadline. Northwell has 73,000 employees, so layoffs represent about three-hundredths of a percent of its workforce.
Similar results have been reported across the country. In Massachusetts, where the union representing the state police soldiers said last week that “dozens of soldiers have already submitted their resignation documents,” the police administration says it only received one only resignation.
At the National Basketball Assn., Vaccine refusals such as New York Nets point guard Kylie Irving get a lot of press, but the league says 90% are vaccinated. The league’s goal of 100% is aided by local rules in New York and San Francisco requiring players in indoor arenas to be vaccinated.
The league has rejected a request by Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, who play at the Chase Center in San Francisco, for a religious exemption from the city’s tenure. The NBA regular season begins October 19.
Employers and government agencies have become more strict about granting exemptions for religious reasons. It’s correct.
No major religion advises against vaccination. Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, urged adherents to get vaccinated, saying getting vaccinated “authorized by the respective authorities” is an “act of love”. Even denominations that advise against certain medical procedures allow vaccines, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists.
United Airlines, which has led the commercial aviation industry to aim for 100% compliance, is demonstrating that a prisoner-free vaccination approach is paying off. The company says that since it imposed its mandate, which requires all of its 67,000 U.S. employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 25 or face dismissal, its vaccination rate has exceeded 97 percent.
The U.S. military has also been a leader in immunization, despite overwhelming publicity given to theatrical announcements of resignations. The Pentagon says 90% of all active-duty troops have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The overall vaccination rate is well below 70%, but the entire force must be fully vaccinated by the end of this year or face consequences that include a dishonorable discharge or even a court martial.
As immunization mandates spread, resistance fighters may increasingly find themselves stuck: fewer employers willing to tolerate unvaccinated workers and less willing to accept unwarranted exceptions. This is perhaps the most encouraging trend in the history of this pandemic to date.