A proverbial tree fell in a forest — and did anyone hear it? The Biden Administration’s deadline came and went for health workers across the country to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or their employers might lose vital federal funding. And despite the political drama that engulfed that requirement, it apparently took force minus the dire consequences opponents predicted.
Due to legal challenges to the vaccination requirement — arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court eventually rejected — the rollout of the mandate was staggered and varied by state.
It will be up to individual institutions and those states to report the data on who complied, with potential loss of Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal funds for those who did not.
Many health employers, notably big hospitals and leading medical organizations, already had taken a firm stance in support of the requirement, especially because workers in this field long have been required to be vaccinated against an array of infectious diseases.
But some health providers, particularly nursing homes, objected to the administration rule. They said they were desperate already to keep their underpaid, overworked staff and they feared they would lose many more due to the vaccine requirement. Long-term care institutions, of course, stood out among U.S. employers dealing with staffing problems with their limpid response. They did not make a public show, say, of foregoing a bit of their profits to improve their workers’ lot with higher pay or better benefits — steps taken by grocers, restaurants, retailers, and many other employers.
Instead, as residents and patients and health workers got infected, hospitalized, and died from the coronavirus, too many institutions battled the vaccine requirement and bemoaned their inability to keep their people.
While the data on hospital workers’ vaccinations is still coming in, the Washington Post reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that oversees nursing homes, has said that “on average nearly 83%” of health workers in the facilities have gotten vaccinated and the process of getting shots for those lacking is proceeding apace, without issue.
If there were protests from health workers, say at big hospitals, they didn’t receive much news coverage. And, as the Washington Post reported, quoting MaryBeth Musumeci, an associate director at the independent Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues:
“At the health system level or local level when mandates have gone into effect, there’s been relatively low amounts of people leaving their jobs. So, we’ll have to see if that pattern plays out in this broader initiative.”
To be sure, some hospitals and health systems and the state of New York have eased the vaccine requirements for health workers, saying that vaccination rates and coronavirus infections among staff have reduced the need for booster mandates. New York state also has said that it recognizes the struggles of hospitals and other facilities to keep staff, who have been overwhelmed and exhausted by caring for coronavirus patients during the pandemic.
Still, as public health officials examine lessons learned from this pandemic to deal with future, calamitous disease outbreaks, there is much to be said for public and private sector parties to protect workers with what economists call nudges, if not outright requirements for vaccines.
It has been a tragic consequence of the politicization of public health and the anti-science, evidence-free partisan, political opposition to efforts to quell the coronavirus pandemic that Americans have failed to recognize, as a respected health writer has reported, that the safe, effective shots now so widely available are a “freaking miracle.”
We are not done with the coronavirus and the huge trauma it has inflicted on us all. As the New York Times reported:
“New coronavirus cases have declined more than 80% from their peak in mid-January. Still, daily case reports remain well above 100,000 per day. About 85,000 people with the virus are hospitalized nationwide. This number, as well as the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, has fallen by more than 30% in the last two weeks. After several weeks of rapid growth, death reports have also begun a modest downturn. Around 2,300 deaths are reported each day, a decrease of more than 10% since the start of the month.”
Still, as the Washington Post reported, the deadliness of the pandemic — and its staggering consequences for Americans’ overall health — have resulted in grim data on the recent national death toll:
“The United States has recorded more than 1 million “excess deaths” since the start of the pandemic, government mortality statistics show, a toll that exceeds the officially documented lethality of the coronavirus and captures the broad consequences of the health crisis that has entered its third year. The excess-deaths figure surpassed the milestone last week, reaching 1,023,916, according to Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The center updates its estimate weekly. Although the vast majority of the excess deaths are due to the virus, the CDC mortality records also expose swollen numbers of deaths from heart disease, hypertension, dementia, and other ailments across two years of pandemic misery. ‘We’ve never seen anything like it,’ Anderson said.”
Please get tested, if appropriate (this is a capacity in need of much improvement and efforts are under way to do so), AND get vaccinated, AND get those booster shots AND wear those quality masks indoors. Officials are trying to make it as easy and convenient, as possible — and it’s free. If you’re uncertain about getting a booster or optimizing your mixing and matching of coronavirus shots, talk to your doctor. And, while you’re at it, ask about and get your annual flu shot.
We cannot ignore disease and death and embrace nihilism and fatalism. We cannot allow anti-science fanatics to destroy centuries of progress with the viral spread of ever-wilder fantasies and conspiracies. Our health system, the envy of the world, cannot be a toy to be smashed by selfish belligerence. We need to consider not just how we race back to normal but also to a better, healthier tomorrow for all.