Saying his patience was “wearing thin” with the unvaccinated, President Biden recently announced plans to require vaccinations for people who work for organizations with 100 or more employees. He also announced similar requirements for other groups, such as federal employees and federal contractors.
These announcements have sent elected Republican officials in Wyoming into a frenzy. They have lined up to oppose the mandates, and have indicated a special session of the Legislature might be convened. Bills and lawsuits are being considered that would limit the impact of the mandates.
Unfortunately, their indignation, which represents one political party’s values, fails to recognize the principles of public health. It also marginalizes the commitment of many citizens who have gotten vaccinated to help end the pandemic.
We strongly encourage our elected officials to back off the politics. Legislation to limit vaccine mandates could substantially prolong this pandemic and be disastrous in a future, more serious outbreak.
While we understand there is a natural resistance to mandates, consider the following:
Vaccine mandates make a lot of sense for some groups, including the military, first responders, educators, health care and nursing home workers, as well as others. Many Wyoming citizens, including children, have little choice but to use some of these services. We have a right to expect safety from infection when we do.
Because a virus does not respect state borders, it is prudent to have some federal requirements to fight a global pandemic.
The U.S. Constitution does not place personal liberty over public good. Numerous court rulings have indicated there is no constitutional right to infect others.
The decision to not get vaccinated is not simply a personal health decision. If someone decides not to have recommended heart surgery, that decision impacts very few others. If someone decides not to get vaccinated, hundreds could be infected.
It is not unprecedented for governments to require vaccination. In fact, it is a common public health tool. Numerous vaccines are required before children can attend school.
COVID-19 vaccinations have been proven to be very safe and effective. They have now been administered to millions of people. It is MUCH safer to get vaccinated than it is to take your chances with the virus.
More than 700,000 deaths have occurred nationwide, including over 1,000 in Wyoming. That is roughly equivalent to the population of Pine Bluffs, Guernsey or Dubois. In addition to the deaths, approximately 30% of COVID-19 patients suffer long-term health effects (long-haulers), including memory loss or lung and heart damage. The financial cost to individuals and society is enormous.
Almost all COVID-19 infections since the vaccine became available could have been prevented if the infected individuals had been vaccinated. Across the state and nation, thousands have died needlessly. They have also added great stress to the health care system.
Vaccines are the key to ending the pandemic. If a substantial portion of the public refuses to get vaccinated, the pandemic will be prolonged. More people will likely become ill and die and new variants might emerge. The economy will continue to suffer.
According to a 2004 Wyoming Department of Health statute review, state pandemic statutes largely meet the recommendations of Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities. The statutes give us the tools to fight a pandemic. Any modifications should be made only after very serious deliberation, including the consideration of a much more serious pandemic in the future.
Seemingly, most of our Republican leaders are ignoring these facts. Instead, many have chosen to align themselves with a segment of the population that opposes mandates and often vaccination itself. Some of that opposition has been extreme, including suggestions Dr. Fauci be executed and a Wyoming senator commit suicide. Facebook is replete with comments nearly as vitriolic. Is this one-sided view of vaccinations really what our Republican leaders want to align themselves with?
Carrying their one-sided representation even further, legislative leaders have discussed the possibility of a bill to financially compensate those who quit their jobs rather than get vaccinated. Recently, a school nurse in Laramie County resigned because she felt school board COVID-19 policies were not adequate. Would the proposed bill compensate her for defending public health? Or would her values fail to pass a Republican purity test?
We need enlightened leadership to end this pandemic. Consideration of the common good must become a priority. That is what elected officials are supposed to do!