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Is It Finally Time To Discuss Vaccine Mandates?

A sign listed on a window that reads "proof of vaccination required".
Credit: iStock.
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The following article is an opinion piece written by Professor Michael S. Kinch. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Technology Networks.


As a regional outbreak evolved into a global pandemic, I was one of many enlisted by the media to convey the objective realities of a deadly pandemic. Consistently cautioning against false hopes for a “Hollywood ending,” my mantra was that nature tends to be rather more complex than a two-hour feature film. History teaches us that the discovery and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine might require years or even decades until a pandemic can be controlled. This assumes, of course, that the vaccine is administered to all.


Through a combination of luck and the exhaustive work of countless scientists, physicians and volunteers, a life-saving vaccine was discovered and distributed in record time. It was the first of several vaccines – utilizing a variety of technologies and platforms – that are now authorized to protect against SARS-CoV-2. One national television anchor still teases me for cautioning against a presumption of a Hollywood ending.


The resulting vaccine has indeed been remarkably safe and efficacious. Overwhelming evidence confirms that mRNA-based vaccines have proven safe and effective. Yet the deployment of the vaccine has been less ideal, encountering first hesitancy and then outright denial.

The M-word

Any discussion of the M-word – mandates – has been taboo amidst a cacophony of politics, which unnecessarily enveloped the pandemic and the vaccine meant to end it. This failure, compounded by the prevalence of vaccine denial and disinformation, translates into the troubling statistic the full course of vaccination (the original series and two boosters) have been administered to only 17% and 15% of the populations of the United States and the European Union, respectively.


Nonetheless, the cinematic virtues afforded by vaccination allowed a shell-shocked and drained world to act like COVID was a problem of the past, with most seeking to forget the nightmares of deaths, lockdowns and disruption.


The only problem with our Hollywood ending is that we provided the virus with an opportunity for a sequel, ensuring more lives than a hockey-masked cinematic villain. Our inability to mandate full vaccination, abetted by vaccine denial and misinformation, not only allowed the virus to circulate within our communities, but ensured it would adapt through countless variants that have arisen over the past few years.


The sequel might prove as deadly as the original. Whereas the rates of death in the US had declined from 500 a day in January of this year to as many in a week, the EG.5 variant looks to be reversing this trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates surged from 469 weekly deaths in mid-July to 722 a month later, a 54% increase accompanied by a 163% increase in hospitalizations.


While our current vaccines are effective, they are also transient, with protection lasting months, not years or decades. This cold reality means that we all must be boosted at least annually. New vaccines for COVID, like influenza, are likely to be introduced on at least an annual basis. Our fundamental understanding of pandemics and viral adaptation dictate that the need and frequency of vaccination are likely to persist for so long as there remain unvaccinated individuals. Despite the recognition, disinformation and vaccine denial ensures COVID-19 continuation.


As summer ebbs and parents anticipate the new school year, the last thing we want to confront is the prospect of new waves of disease and chaos. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon us to recognize COVID is far from over. The only way we can end this drama is to mandate that all individuals are not merely vaccinated but remain up to date with boosters. Until or unless this occurs, we will continue to be derailed for years and perhaps generations to come.