As a result of the prospect of a new surge, many Americans are blaming the unvaccinated. Some experts warn that taking a tougher stance may backfire.
As Coronavirus cases resurface across the country, many inoculated Americans are losing patience with vaccine holdouts who, they say, are neglecting a civic duty or clinging to conspiracy theories and misinformation even as new patients arrive in emergency rooms and mask advisories are renewed nationwide.
A sense of celebration was palpable barely a month ago as the country appeared to be exiting the pandemic. Vaccinated parents fear for their unvaccinated children and worry about their own vulnerability to breakthrough infections. In many communities, rising case rates are disrupting plans for reopening schools and workplaces, and threatening another wave of infections.
“ It’s like the sun has come up in the morning and everyone is arguing about it,” said Jim Taylor, 66, a retired civil servant in Baton Rouge, La., a state where fewer than half of adults are fully immunized.
Viruses are killing people, and we have a time-tested way to stop them – but we won’t. “This is an outrage.”
More coercive measures are being supported by the rising sentiment. Several scientists, business leaders, and government officials are calling for vaccine mandates – if not by the federal government, then by local jurisdictions, schools, and employers.
“Over time, my anger has increased,” said Doug Robertson, 39, a teacher who lives outside Portland, Ore., and has three children too young for vaccinations, including a toddler with a serious health condition.
Some people are choosing not to walk toward the light at the end of the tunnel now that there is a vaccine available,” he said. By making that choice, you make things darker for my family and others like it.”
All municipal workers in New York City must be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the time schools reopen in mid-September or face weekly testing. Hours later, California officials passed a similar mandate covering all state employees and health care workers.
Veterans Affairs required 115,000 on-site health care workers to be vaccinated over the next two months, the first federal agency to do so. On Monday, almost 60 major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, called for mandatory vaccinations for all health care workers.
Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, a Republican, told reporters last week that unvaccinated people should be blamed, not regular people. “Unvaccinated people are letting us down.”
America is at an inflection point, there is no doubt about that. A database maintained by The New York Times shows that 57 percent of Americans ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated. As of early April, eligible Americans were receiving 3.38 million doses per day on average, down 84 percent from the peak.
Vaccination is lagging and restrictions have been lifted, resulting in an increase in infections. Over the past two weeks, the country has seen a 170 percent increase in new cases, averaging 52,000 per day. The rates of hospitalization and death are also on the rise, although not at the same pace.
In communities from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, vaccinated people are being advised to wear masks indoors again. The counties of Los Angeles and St. Louis, Mo., have ordered indoor mask mandates due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
For many Americans who were vaccinated months ago, the future looks bleak. Even within close families, frustration strains relations.
Josh Perldeiner, 36, a public defender in Connecticut with a 2-year-old son, had been fully vaccinated by mid-May. In spite of his and other family members’ urgings, a close relative who visits frequently refuses to get the shots.
She recently tested positive for the virus after traveling to Florida, where hospitals are overflowing with Covid-19 patients. His son, too young for a vaccine, may have been exposed, Mr. Perldeiner fears.
“It goes beyond putting us at risk,” he said. As infections rise, he said, “I feel like we’re at the same precipice as just a year ago, where people don’t care if more people die.”
As a result, hospitals have become a particular flashpoint. Vaccination is voluntary in most settings, and in most hospitals and nursing homes, caregivers are not required to receive vaccinations. Vaccination requirements are just beginning to be enforced by many large hospital chains.
Even though she is fully vaccinated, Aimee McLean, a nurse case manager at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, worries she might inadvertently transmit the virus to her father, who has a serious chronic lung disease. Utah’s population is less than half fully vaccinated.
“It feels like a decent percentage of the population doesn’t care about us as health care workers the longer we don’t reach that number,” McLean, 46, said.
Insurers should link hospital coverage to immunizations. She said, “If you don’t contribute, you should be accountable for the consequences.”.
As early as next month, many schools and universities will resume in-person classes. With the rise in infections, tensions between vaccinated and unvaccinated have increased in these settings as well.
In order to reopen K-12 schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking into account rates of community virus transmission. As vaccination rates rise in communities where vaccination lags, vaccinated parents must worry anew about outbreaks at schools. Children under 12 are not yet authorized to receive the vaccines.
When schools reopen, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children wear masks in class. From Chicago to Washington, school districts began implementing mandates on Friday.
In contrast, universities often require vaccinations of students and staff. Many have not, frustrating those who have been vaccinated.
If we respect the rights and liberties of the unvaccinated, what happens to the rights and liberties of the vaccinated? Elif Akcali, 49, is a professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville. As vaccination rates climb in Florida, she is concerned about exposure to the virus because the university does not require students to be vaccinated.
There are even some who are wondering how much sympathy they should have for their fellow citizens who are not acting in their best interests. “If you don’t get vaccinated and then you get sick, that’s your fault,” said Lia Hockett, 21, manager of Thunderbolt Spiritual Books in Santa Monica.
Vaccinated people believe the federal government should start using sticks rather than carrots, such as lottery tickets, as the virus spreads again.
Carol Meyer, 65, of Ulster County, N.Y., suggested withholding stimulus payments or tax credits from vaccine refusalers. We have a social contract with our neighbors in this country, and people who don’t get vaccinated are breaking it, Ms. Meyer said.
The retired innkeeper from Acton, Mass., Bill Alstrom, 74, said he would not support measures that directly affect individual families and children, but asked whether state funding should be withheld if vaccination targets are not met.
Maybe the federal government should require vaccinations for employees and contractors. Doesn’t withholding federal funding from states that fail to meet vaccination targets make sense?
Although vaccine hesitancy and refusal are often considered conservative phenomena in the United States, they occur across all political and cultural spectrums. All of these concerns cannot be addressed in a single argument, and changing minds is often a slow, individualized process.
Approximately half of the members of Highland Christian Center church in Portland, Ore., have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Pastor Shon Neyland, who regularly urges them to do so. Vaccination has caused tension within the congregation.
“ It’s disappointing, because I’ve tried to help them see that their lives are in danger and this is a serious threat to humanity,” he said.
Harris, 26, who works at Grace Cathedral International in Uniondale, N.Y., has not been vaccinated and is “taking my time.” She worries that the vaccines have long-term side effects.
As Ms. Harris put it, “I shouldn’t be judged or forced to make a decision.”. “Society will have to wait for us.”
Vaccine resentment may lead to public support for coercive measures, including mandates, but experts warn that punitive measures and social ostracism can have the opposite effect, halting dialogue and outreach.
Several Los Angeles County officials are already refusing to enforce the county’s new mask mandate.
Professor Stephen Thomas, of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said that anything that reduces the opportunity for honest dialogue and persuasion is not good. “People are in their own echo chambers in today’s isolated, siloed information systems.”
Dorrett Denton, 62, a home health aide in Queens, was persuaded to be vaccinated in February by gentle persuasion and persistent prodding. It was her doctor who persuaded Ms. Denton to get immunized, not her employer.
“She says to me: ‘You’ve been coming to me since 1999.’ What was the number of times I operated on you, and your life was in my hands? Do you trust me with your life? Ms. Denton asked.
“I said, ‘Yes, doctor.’ She replied, ‘Trust me on this one.’”