Choosing Mandates or Covid

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 10, 2021

Even as health statistics and hospitalizations show that it is the unvaccinated who are both getting sick and allowing the covid pandemic to linger and mutate, fighting over vaccines has become a national sport.

Much has been made both of the surprisingly fierce resistance both to the continuing spread of both vaccinations and masking requirements in business, schools, the military, and government and of the irony that the very same people who resist this vaccine are promoting alternative treatments that ignore medical science for social media-promoted home remedies — and lining up for treatment at overwhelmed hospitals, particularly across the South and Midwest.

The continuing mutation of the virus, and a slew of confusing announcements about who, when and what brand of booster shots we might be seeking even as the main problem remained the size of an unvaccinated population.

It all finally prompted Joe Biden to go public with the outlines of a renewed public vaccination campaign to encourage, no demand, that private company and school requirements for vaccines and testing — despite the building political opposition from partisan opponents who link vaccines with anti-authoritarianism. His plans may be less than specific and overly bossy, but promote the notion that the only way to return to some sense of normalcy remains to get as many people vaccinated as possible now that the FDA has given its official imprimatur to the vaccine as safe.

Teens Are Lagging

Of all of the statistics being thrown around with abandon, the one that stands out is this: Teens are not showing up to take the vaccine, with percentages varying by state. But since May, at least two of three teens have not gotten shots.

Teen vaccines are as little as 11% in some states like Florida, where Republican governors have been active at discouraging mandated programs among school districts, says the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time, we’re seeing a huge increase in the raw numbers of teen covid cases, and a substantial number of deaths, to say nothing of the hundreds of school districts that already have been interrupted since the start of school this month.

It seems impossible to believe that 85% of teens are the children of the 30 percent of adults who are vaccine hesitant, though no one seems to be taking that kind of measurement. With all due respect to adults with serious questions for themselves about vaccine mandates, the question is why they would put their teens and younger children without access to vaccines at above-average risk.

NPR made an attempt to ask teens, finding most frequently answers reflecting youthful delay and denial. Basically, lots of teens said they were still deciding about the vaccine since it became available in May.

Where is personal responsibility here? Where is self-protection or a family decision to keep even our own safe?

The Wider Effect

As primary as the concern is for individual health, there is widening acknowledgment that covid is not disappearing any time soon. We should stop the militaristic talk of defeat of covid and deal instead with containment strategies.

The only reasonable response is to change the current arguments away from the personal liberty debate and promotion of alternative animal-worm treatments back to the main event — how we are keeping covid alive in this country and allowing it to strengthen. Images of football stadiums filled with tens of thousands of unmasked fans don’t hearten the soul; by now, each of us must know someone falling sick even with vaccines as stronger mutations emerge.

The insistence on vaccine hesitance and its adoption as a partisan Republican issue is serving to keep America a continuing immunological laboratory for mutations. Each new mutation seems one step more advanced to bypass the reach of the current vaccines, and the current crop of vaccines are each showing a loss of efficacy after several months. As individuals, we’re going to take booster for a long time to come — or not, risking more hospitalization and death.

A friend forwarded a new Japanese study that concludes that the delta variant Spike protein is maybe mutations away from being completely resistant to antibody neutralization by the current vaccines, according to tests in mice. Oversimplified, the idea is each mutation builds on its predecessors and adds defenses that neutralize previous vulnerabilities.

The question we should be asking is whether we are preparing to live with the mutations, and what steps we need to take to lessen the impacts.