Biden’s vaccine mandate has cargo giants in a pre-holiday panic

“A trade group for air cargo giants like UPS and FedEx is sounding the alarm over an impending Dec. 8 vaccine deadline imposed by President Joe Biden, complaining it threatens to wreak havoc at the busiest time of the year — and add yet another kink to the supply chain.”

“The deadline has been hailed by public health officials as a way of increasing vaccination rates as the country continues to struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic. But business groups and conservatives have warned that it could have damaging economic impacts. The deadline brushes right up against the peak holiday season and as some of the biggest cargo distribution companies, including UPS and FedEx, are already battling unprecedented labor shortages.”

The US was a world leader in vaccination. What went wrong?

“The United States started its vaccination drive with a structural advantage. It had the most generous supply of Covid vaccines, along with Israel, thanks to investments made to procure doses before the vaccines were approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration.”

“Demographics may also be holding the US back to a degree. America has more young people than most Western European countries: About 16 percent of Germany’s population is under 18 versus about 22 percent of the US’s, to give one example. Children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines in the US (or anywhere else), which may be partly depressing its vaccination share.
But there is more to the story than supply quirks or demographic trends.

Compared to a country like Portugal, now a world leader in Covid vaccinations, the United States’ vaccination rates for its eligible population are not particularly strong, either. In Portugal, 99 percent of people over age 65 are fully vaccinated; in the US, the share is closer to 80 percent. Those disparities persist in the younger age cohorts: 85 percent of Portuguese people ages 25 to 49 are fully vaccinated versus less than 70 percent of the Americans in the same age range.

Another big difference that explains that divergence is one of culture and politics. Covid vaccinations have become, like so much of America’s pandemic response, polarized along political lines. As of July, 86 percent of Democrats said they were vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, while only 54 percent of Republicans said the same. One in five Republicans said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine.

“This political divide over vaccines has contributed to the US falling behind European countries when it comes to coverage levels,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me.

There are pockets of vaccine hesitancy in Europe, especially in Germany and France, but nothing on the scale of what we have seen in the United States. In Portugal, as reflected in its exemplary vaccination rate, skeptics have a very low public profile.

“We don’t need to convince people to get vaccinated,” Gonçalo Figueiredo Augusto, who studies public health at NOVA University Lisbon, told me over Zoom. “People want to.””

Florida’s mysterious Covid-19 surge

“Toward the end of the summer, Florida became the epicenter for America’s recent Covid-19 wave — reporting more hospitalizations and deaths than any other state in the country. But there was and still is surprisingly little certainty, among experts, over one question about Florida’s surge: Why did it happen?

The most common explanation for the outbreaks in the South that we saw over the recent summer was the low vaccination rates across the region. It’s true vaccination rates are low across the South: Seven of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates are in the region. And lower vaccine rates do correlate with more Covid-19 cases and deaths.

But Florida defies the regional trend. The state ranks 20th for full vaccination in the US, with 56 percent of people fully vaccinated — not great, but a little above the national rate. At the peak of its outbreak in mid-August, Florida had fully vaccinated about 51 percent of its population — again, not great, but in line with the national rate.

Maybe Florida loosened restrictions too quickly and more aggressively? It’s certainly true that Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken a more hands-off approach than leaders in blue states, but it’s not clear if this actually led to differences in how the public behaved.

According to Google’s mobility data, Floridians around mid-August were about 14 percent less likely to travel to retail and recreational outlets compared to pre-pandemic times. That’s almost the same as Californians, and actually lower than New Yorkers. Neither New York (about 59 percent fully vaccinated at the time) nor California (about 54 percent fully vaccinated at the time — not much higher than Florida) saw surges anywhere as bad as Florida’s in August.

The same trend holds for other metrics that measure precaution. Based on Carnegie Mellon University’s COVIDcast, through August, Floridians were more likely to mask up than New Yorkers or residents in other states that didn’t see nearly as big Covid-19 surges.

Based on OpenTable’s restaurant reservation data, Florida was back to pre-pandemic numbers for restaurant reservations around mid-August, but that wasn’t too different from the US as a whole. Some states, like New Jersey and Connecticut, equaled or surpassed their pre-pandemic baseline for restaurant reservations and didn’t see anywhere near the surge that Florida did (although both benefited from significantly higher vaccination rates than Florida).”

“We don’t know everything about why Covid-19 cases rise, and we don’t know everything about why they fall, either. David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu at the New York Times recently demonstrated that the coronavirus appears to follow two-month cycles in its rises and falls.”

“This isn’t to say that nothing matters in the fight against Covid-19. We know vaccines work to protect people from severe illness, including against the delta variant. Social distancing, masking, and restrictions do, too. Chances are Florida’s surge would have been much smaller if it had done better on all these fronts.

But Florida’s example complicates any story of recent Covid-19 surges that focuses solely on reopenings and vaccinations. Something else seems to be going on, and experts aren’t totally sure what. “There are things that, to be honest, we don’t fully understand,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told me.”

Vaccines Mandates Work, But They’re Messy

“the country has long waxed and waned on whether to require kids to get vaccinated. School vaccine requirements have been with us a long time — nearly as long as public schooling itself. Smallpox vaccination — the only vaccine that existed early in the history of public education — was required for entry into Boston public schools in 1827. But for much of American history, mandates were inconsistently applied across geography and tended to come and go over time. For example, Washington and Wisconsin ended school vaccination requirements in 1919 and 1920, respectively, and during the 1920s, the Utah and North Dakota legislatures passed laws forbidding compulsory vaccination.

But mandates became more of a mainstay in the late 20th century, when a series of school-based measles outbreaks swept the nation in the 1970s — and it quickly became clear that vaccines could help. In Texarkana, a city split by the Texas-Arkansas border, the Arkansas side had a vaccine mandate and fared far better than the Texas side, which had no mandate. By 1980, every state had some kind of compulsory vaccination for school-age children. Annual cases of measles dropped from tens of thousands in the 1970s to fewer than 2,000 by 1983. During the 20th century, measles infected an average of more than 500,000 Americans each year. In 2005, after decades of school vaccine mandates and vaccination rates higher than 90 percent, it infected 66 people. Vaccines reduced the spread of disease, and making the vaccines mandatory all but eliminated it.”

In Portugal, There Is Virtually No One Left to Vaccinate

“Portugal’s health care system was on the verge of collapse. Hospitals in the capital, Lisbon, were overflowing and authorities were asking people to treat themselves at home. In the last week of January, nearly 2,000 people died as the virus spread.

The country’s vaccine program was in a shambles, so the government turned to Vice Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, a former submarine squadron commander, to right the ship.

Eight months later, Portugal is among the world’s leaders in vaccinations, with roughly 86% of its population of 10.3 million fully vaccinated. About 98% of all of those eligible for vaccines — meaning anyone over 12 — have been fully vaccinated, Gouveia e Melo said.”

How political polarization broke America’s vaccine campaign

“That polarization has now opened political rifts in vaccination rates, with people’s decision to get a shot or not today a better predictor of states’ electoral outcomes than their votes in prior elections. It’s led the US’s vaccination campaign to hit a wall, missing President Joe Biden’s July 4 goal. Meanwhile, the more infectious delta variant is spreading, raising the risk of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in unvaccinated — and often heavily Republican — areas.

To put it bluntly: Polarization is killing people.”

If Texas Businesses Are Free To Require Face Masks, Why Can’t They Require Proof of Vaccination?

“there is ample evidence that vaccines sharply reduce the risk of infection and are even more effective at preventing life-threatening symptoms. Furthermore, schools have a long history of requiring that students be vaccinated against other diseases. Abbott’s order nevertheless says “state agencies and political subdivisions shall not adopt or enforce any order, ordinance, policy, regulation. rule, or similar measure that requires an individual to provide, as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place, documentation regarding the individual’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization.” That prohibition also applies to “any public or private entity that is receiving or will receive public funds through any means, including grants, contracts, loans, or other disbursements of taxpayer money.””

“a state law that Abbott signed on June 16 goes further, saying “a business in this state may not require a customer to provide any documentation certifying the customer’s COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery on entry to, to gain access to, or to receive service from the business.” It says any business that violates this provision is ineligible for state contracts, and it allows state agencies to “require compliance with that subsection as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.””

“”Texas is open 100 percent, and we want to make sure that you have the freedom to go where you want without limits,” Abbott declared after signing the law banning proof-of-vaccination requirements. That position sacrifices private property rights and freedom of association in the name of an unlimited “freedom” that has never been legally recognized: the freedom of any given customer to dictate the terms on which businesses offer products or services.”

“assuming that school vaccine mandates are justified with respect to other communicable diseases, it is hard to see why COVID-19 should be treated differently—leaving aside the lack of full FDA approval, which is expected to be remedied soon. One counterargument is that COVID-19, which rarely causes life-threatening symptoms in children and teenagers, poses a less serious danger to them than other diseases for which vaccination is required.* Still, requiring teachers and students to be vaccinated certainly seems like a more cost-effective policy than requiring them to wear masks all day.”

“it hardly makes sense to say that private businesses should be free to require face masks, on the theory that customers who don’t like that rule can go elsewhere, while prohibiting them from requiring proof of vaccination, which likewise is not tantamount to a legal requirement.”