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A 17-year-old receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile clinic during a back to school event offering school supplies, face masks, vaccinations, and other resources for children and their families at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on August 7, 2021. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

A 17-year-old receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile clinic during a back to school event offering school supplies, face masks, vaccinations, and other resources for children and their families at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA on August 7, 2021. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Public Health Experts Praise Biden's New Vaccination Requirements

Addressing those who call such policies attacks on personal freedom, one doctor said that "people also have a right to be able to go to work and not get infected and not get sick and not die."

Jessica Corbett

With U.S. Covid-19 deaths rising and over a quarter of the eligible population still unvaccinated, President Joe Biden's sweeping new rules aimed at boosting vaccination rates have provoked predictable backlash from Republican lawmakers, right-wing voices, and anti-vaccine commentators but also widespread applause from public health experts and medical professionals.

"Your freedom stops when you're impacting other people's freedoms and rights."
—Dr. Aaron Glatt, Mount Sinai South Nassau

The new policies come as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic—now largely driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant—has topped 655,500 and some hospitals, particularly in regions with lower inoculation rates, are struggling to treat both Covid-19 patients and those with other ailments.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the Boston Globe that the president "got it right" and his six-part national strategy to end the pandemic contains "the measures we need to get this pandemic under control."

Vaccinating the unvaccinated is one prong of Biden's plan. The president on Thursday signed a pair of executive orders requiring all federal workers and contractors who do business with the U.S. government to get vaccinated. He also directed the Labor Department to craft a rule requiring all employers with more than 100 workers to mandate inoculation against Covid-19 or weekly testing.

The administration is mandating vaccination for workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. With children under age 12 still not eligible for any authorized Covid-19 vaccines, Biden is also requiring shots for staff in Head Start programs, Defense Department schools, and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools, and calling on states to adopt such requirements for all employees of educational institutions.

"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for?" Biden said in a speech Thursday evening outlining his administration's Covid-19 action plan. "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us."

Jha predicted that "the vaccine mandate[s] themselves are going to substantially drive up vaccination," noting that such requirements aren't always popular but often obeyed.

Without vaccine mandates, "we would be looking at thousands of people dying every day for weeks and months on out," the doctor added. "We have all the tools to prevent it. I was happy to see the president deploy those tools."

Jha applauded requiring hospitals that get Medicaid or Medicare dollars to mandate vaccination for workers, as well as the new rule for major employers, saying that "it is not safe at this moment to return to a workplace where there is a large number of unvaccinated people."

While Biden's latest moves have been blasted by some right-wing and anti-vaccine commentators as attacks on personal freedom, Jha pointed out that "people also have a right to be able to go to work and not get infected and not get sick and not die."

That position was echoed by Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, New York, in comments to Newsday.

"Your freedom stops when you're impacting other people's freedoms and rights," Glatt said. People who remain unvaccinated "are going to cause Covid to spread and they're going to help invite [vaccine-]resistant strains and variant strains to occur. That's the problem. It's not like you're living in a vacuum."

"Anything that will spur people to get vaccinated," he added, "is a good idea."

Glatt also noted how misinformation and publicity of "breakthrough" infections—or cases of fully vaccinated people getting Covid-19—have fueled vaccine hesitancy.

A study published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as Delta drove rising case numbers around the country this spring and summer, people who were not fully vaccinated were over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized or die of Covid-19 than those who were fully inoculated.

"The vaccines are unbelievably good at preventing serious illness, ICU admissions, intubations, and death," said Glatt. "We haven't done a good enough job reminding everybody and showing them the statistics that unvaccinated people are 99% of the deaths in the United States right now of Covid, and hospitals are filled up with unvaccinated people."

The New York Times reported that alongside the praise, Biden's latest requirements drew warnings from experts that the rules may be "too little, too late" as well as "skepticism and outrage," including from Republicans such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who said her legal team "is standing by ready to file our lawsuit" against Biden's "unconstitutional rule."

GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona also took to Twitter with vows to challenge the president's moves. In his speech Thursday, Biden addressed some state leaders' anti-science actions throughout the pandemic, promising that "if these governors won't help us beat the pandemic, I'll use my power as president to get them out of the way."

Asked about the threats of legal challenges while visiting a Washington, D.C. school on Friday, Biden declared: "Have at it."

"I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities," he added. "We're playing for real here—this isn't a game—and I don't know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn't think it makes considerable sense to do the six things I've suggested."

Legal experts anticipate Biden's new rules will soon reach the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court.

Alabama's WHNT News 19 discussed the business requirements with Eric Artrip, a Huntsville attorney and partner of Mastando & Artrip, LLC.

"The federal government has decided to go through the Department of Labor for these mandates and that's the same department that regulates mandatory minimum wage, time, and a half for each hour work above 40 for overtime payment, and things like that. Generally speaking, the federal government has the ability to regulate private employers for certain things that are of the matter of public concern, certainly, a global pandemic would qualify," he said.

Artrip explained that the mandates could be upheld by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, "which allows Congress and by extension, the administrative branch, the opportunity or the obligation in some respects to regulate private industry."

"Much like the U.S. government mandated Ford Motor Company to make airplanes in World WII, basically seize the reins of industrial powers in order to affect the war effort," he said. "Right now, being that we are in a global pandemic, the government has exercised its emergency powers to mandate vaccinations for private companies."

Some companies and business leaders echoed public health experts' praise for Biden's plan.

"We know vaccines, coupled with widespread and convenient testing, serve as powerful tools to help slow the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, keeping the U.S. economy open, and protecting America's workforce," said Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy at Amazon, according to the Times.

Matt Cohen, president and chief executive of the umbrella group Long Island Association, told Newsday that "in March 2020, we could have never fathomed that Covid-19 would have such a long-lasting and devastating impact" on the region's business community.

"Vaccines are critical to finally put this pandemic behind us, especially now that we are confronted with the Delta variant," Cohen said. "Encouraging vaccinations or requiring testing for the virus by larger employers will help ensure our region's economic recovery, and some have implemented it already."

Despite the potential legal barriers for Biden's newly announced policies, some public health experts want the president to go even further. Brown's Jha told the Globe that he wished the mandates applied to higher education institutions and airline travel.

"There will not be a day when somebody will wave a flag and everyone will go celebrate. We're not going to eradicate SARS-CoV-2," Jha warned, using the name of the virus that causes Covid-19. The pandemic will be over, he added, when so many people are immune that "the virus becomes a nuisance and not a threat."


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