The Goal is Near Universal Vaccination

As Biden’s economic recovery takes off, his agenda is imperiled by the politics of Covid

As TLP has argued since the first days of the Biden administration, there are only two issues that matter for the success of the country and for Democrats in 2022: controlling the pandemic and getting the economy back on track. Everything else is a sideshow and distraction. 

Until now, the Biden team has done an admirable job on both fronts. The economy is running full steam ahead and large percentages of Americans are vaccinated. 

But all this progress is seriously at risk with the latest delta variant surge and the confusing and contradictory positions of the CDC and health officials on how to confront it. Rather than pushing and promoting the most important goal of near universal vaccination, the CDC has reversed course to recommend masks indoors for the vaccinated—simultaneously undermining their rationale from May for getting the vaccine and diminishing their trustworthiness by not presenting their data and not considering the obvious question of why those who do not want a vaccine would change course or start wearing masks. 

Consequently, the country faces yet another culture war fight between the “vaccinated and the unvaccinated” and over the need for masks without getting any closer to doing what is necessary to control the pandemic: near universal vaccination. A lose-lose proposition.  

The front page of The Washington Post today exemplifies the political challenge currently facing the Biden team: “6.5% growth points to full recovery” coupled with, “Face coverings become latest school flash point.”

Just as the U.S. economy is going gangbusters, the coronavirus response is producing unnecessary political splits and rising anger and confusion among Americans. The CDC and Biden should admit their stumbles in issuing the new guidelines, better explain their rationale and fully present all evidence for scrutiny, and pledge to the public full transparency in grappling with the difficult and shifting task of confronting Covid going forward. 

Above all, public health officials and leaders need to level with Americans that the only goal that really matters is getting the country to near complete vaccination levels. No one wants to wear masks. No one wants to shut down schools or businesses again. And we have a very effective way to avoid this if everyone gets vaccinated.

Just as people must have driver’s licenses to get on the roads—or present proof of other vaccinations to go to school, to work, or to travel—Covid vaccination must become a requirement for the general welfare of the entire nation. This will require full approval of the vaccines by the FDA followed by clear requirements from employers, insurers, state officials, government agencies, schools, and others that all citizens must show proof of vaccination by the beginning of 2022.

As David Leonhardt notes in his newsletter today, this is already happening:

Momentum for vaccine mandates seems to be building — which could ultimately matter much more than any mask-wearing guidelines.

  • Facebook, Google and Netflix all said yesterday that they would require many employees to have been vaccinated for Covid-19, with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons. The companies joined Morgan Stanley, The Washington Post and several other high-profile private employers.

  • Several local governments — including New York State yesterday — have announced worker mandates that cover a few million people combined. In some cases, people can take a regular Covid test instead of being vaccinated.

  • More than 600 universities have announced mandates for students or employees. California State, the country’s largest four-year public university system, joined the list Tuesday. Many hospitals also have mandates, including the sprawling Veterans Health Administration and the Mayo Clinic.

  • Perhaps the biggest new rule is scheduled to be announced today — from President Biden, covering the millions who work for the federal government.

These high-profile announcements make it much easier for other organizations that had been considering mandates to go ahead: Their leaders no longer need to worry they will become the subject of national attention for enacting one.

If the Biden administration is going to take a political hit on this no matter what—which seems unavoidable now—it might as well be in the service of a goal that will produce widespread tangible improvements for the entire country: near universal vaccination.