By The Herald Editorial Board
Even as the rates for covid infections and hospitalizations nationwide continue their most recent surge, the lines have hardened between two camps:
Team Vax, which sees broader vaccination rates as the best shot — in the United States and worldwide —to limit the spread of the coronavirus and its variants and to stanch a growing death toll that by Nov. 1 is expected to top 685,000 in the U.S. and approach 5 million globally; and
Team No Thanks, those who doubt the severity of the pandemic and/or the safety and efficacy of any of three vaccines now easily available — at least in the U.S. — to fight covid-19.
If you’re expecting a balanced assessment of these two camps — one expressing sympathy for the skeptics and grudging permission to carry on as they please — you won’t read that here. Far too much is now at stake to indulge in it’s-your-funeral absolution.
The delta variant — and any other letters in the Greek alphabet that are likely to develop in the petri dish of increasing infections — now pose a rapidly growing threat to all because the coronavirus has shown a talent for adapting to the unprotected populations with which it is presented.
Those who have insisted they were safe because they believed it was the elderly and those with diabetes or other health conditions that were the ones at greatest risk for hospitalization and death from covid, should look again.
The patients now occupying ICU hospital beds in increasing numbers are looking younger, but not healthier.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that people 65 and older represented half of all hospitalized patients at the end of January. Now, that age group accounts for just over a quarter of those patients, while those between 18 and 49 account for 41 percent of those hospitalized with covid, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
The gallows humor of doctors refers to the change in demographic as “younger, sicker, quicker,” The Times reported.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. More than 80 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 are fully vaccinated, compared with fewer than half of those 18 to 39, the report continues.
Again, even when fighting the delta variant, all three vaccines have proved effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Worried that the vaccine might be more dangerous than covid? Again, take another look.
More than 347 million doses of vaccine have been administered nationally; 192 million Americans have received at least one dose; 165 million are fully vaccinated. Yes, there were reports of blood clots among a very small number of those receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. As of April, three deaths were linked to blood clots among those receiving that vaccine; and adjustments were made to those who get the J&J shot.
A few conservative pundits earlier pounced on figures from reports of deaths among those who had received one of the vaccines, with about 6,200 deaths reported. But those deaths merely followed administration of the vaccines and were not necessarily the cause of those deaths. In fact, a review of those deaths showed the vaccines were not responsible.
One more time: Vaccines are as safe as they are effective.
What they shouldn’t be is a hard sell.
Health and public officials at all levels have used a number of tools of persuasion to encourage people to get vaccinated, relying at first on most folks’ common sense and concern for their own health and that of their family and their communities. Incentives, such as offers of gifts and lotteries may have prodded a few more to get their jabs.
Now, the efforts — out of necessity — are becoming more coercive.
Employers, such as Microsoft, Walmart, Google and Facebook — out of concern for their bottom lines as much as for public health — are mandating vaccines for employees, as have many hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. And yes, as long as exceptions are made for those with specific disabilities or sincere religious beliefs, employers can make vaccination a condition of employment.
Similar employee mandates are being readied or considered for other public employees.
Many universities and colleges across the nation have already notified students, faculty and staff of requirements to vaccinate this fall.
And New York City is preparing to take vaccine persuasion a step farther, applying it to customers of some businesses, specifically indoor dining, theaters and gyms. Customers will be required to show proof of vaccination to congregate indoors.
Even if those efforts fall short of getting the nation to a sufficient level of herd immunity, it’s not likely government officials will resort to a hard vaccine requirement for all. Opposition — even among those who support vaccination — could pose too much of a backlash to this and future public health efforts.
And, really, it shouldn’t be necessary. Vaccination should be an obvious matter of self-preservation and respect for those around you.
One more attempt at persuasion, then: If you won’t vaccinate for yourself, do so for our children.
School-age children have sacrificed more than a year of schooling — especially in the days before vaccines were widely available — in order to keep rates of infection low and to protect the health and lives of those who were most vulnerable to covid-19.
Remote learning allowed some level of education to continue but it was never an ideal solution, and a widespread return to online instruction would mean too great a loss in educational outcomes for students and a hardship for our country now and in the future. While those 12 and older are now eligible for the vaccine, no date is yet known for Food and Drug Administration approval of one or more vaccines for younger children, increasing their vulnerability.
To keep schools open — and students healthy — a higher percentage of vaccination in all communities is necessary.
We now are seeing that covid, thanks to the delta variant, has extended its reach by making itself easier to spread and more likely to infect and sicken younger adults. It will continue to adapt as long as it’s provided the opportunity.
Each vaccinated person represents one less shot for covid to make itself even more lethal.