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Do we need COVID-19 vaccine mandates?

COVID-19 vaccine. (303011)
COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Daniel Schludi

The debate is on. Is it time for a vaccine mandate? Some experts say yes because of the lingering threat to public health presented by the coronavirus.

“The Delta variant is very transmissible,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine. “(But) these vaccines are still working.”

“The vaccines are safe and they work,” added Dr. Ben Neuman, the chief virologist at the Global Health Research Complex at Texas A&M University. “(Vaccinated people have) less likelihood of severe disease, ventilators, and death.”

Meanwhile, Gandhi spoke about different strategies for vaccinating unvaccinated people.

“Is it legal and ethical to mandate vaccines?” Gandhi asked. “You are seeing the dialogue shift over the past two weeks to vaccinate passports and mandates.”

Gandhi was one of four medical experts who participated in an Ethnic Media Services panel titled: “Are Vaccines Beating the Virus? Do We Need Mandates? Are we Demonizing Unvaxxed?” on July 30.

Meanwhile, as covid infections spread due to the Delta variant in Los Angeles County, experts weighed in on key questions: How effective are vaccines for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people?; how can officials speed up vaccination rates before new variants emerge?; and what is the societal risk of demonizing the unvaccinated?

“It’s a lot more nuanced than pointing the finger at the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Tiffani Johnson, a pediatrician at UC Davis Health Children’s Hospital. “Children under 12 are not even eligible for the vaccine.”

Johnson discussed the socio-economic and cultural factors that have left many minorities unvaccinated and the risks of demonizing the unvaccinated.

“How can we make sure that we are compensating individuals so they are not losing income (if they need time off due to vaccine side effects),” Johnson said. “The shame and the blame really need to stop.”

“There are always exceptions to mandates,” Gandhi added. However, she said the federal, state, and local governments are protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that vaccinations can be mandated when public health is at stake.

“I’m a fan of the FDA approving the vaccine,” Johnson added. “I think we need to focus on educating the community… but I don’t think it’s fair to create vaccine passports until we address those socio-economic barriers.”