A reader writes:
What prompts this e-mail is your post:
Long story short, I think you have the wrong attitude about vaccine mandates. For clarity, I’m vaccinated and boosted and I encourage others to get vaccinated. At the same time, I’m against vaccine mandates. And I think you should be too.
The first point I’d like to make is to agree with you that there’s a lot of ridiculous attitudes about the vaccine and ridiculous hyperbole in online discussions on the matter. I have very little sympathy for the conspiracies from the actual anti-vax cult. (To use your language.) But that’s not in and of itself an argument for mandates. I’m not part of the cult nor are millions of Americans who are vaccinated and oppose mandates. It’s important we don’t conflate the two issues. There are many things that are either good or bad for people for which we don’t either mandate or prohibit and with good reason.
In the case of public health, the criteria for a quarantine or a mandate *MUST* be wide-spread public health issues for which the policy actually has a meaningful effect. And the COVID vaccine fails this test. Now, again, to be clear, I’m vaccinated and boosted and encourage others to do so. But the question is whether my having taken the vaccine is meaningful helping the public.
The data at this point is unambiguously clear. Vaccination does not prevent infection nor transmission. (Including boostering.) The current Omicron wave has rates of spread many times higher than any wave before it, including before we had the vaccine. This wouldn’t be possible if the vaccine (which 85% of adults have had at least one dose) actually significantly reduced transmission. That alone is evidence enough. But there are dozens of studies that confirm this.
I am glad you are vaccinated, but we disagree about mandates. A disease that has killed a million people in just a couple of years is a big enough public health threat that mandates are perfectly sane and just and opposition to them is folly. I passed your claim that vaccination does not prevent transmission by a friend who is an expert in immunology (he actually teaches it and is a working physician). Here is his reply:
Vaccination prevents transmission.
Information we have seen since early 2021.
Here is a review in summer 2021 assessing early data rigorously and concluding that, yes, vaccination reduces transmission.
Here is a Dec 2021 article from Israel demonstrating more rigorously the same:
As I said, to say vaccinated people can transmit covid compared to unvaccinated people is to say that I can play tennis in the way that Serena Williams can play tennis. Its just so obvious that it could be measured in the months after vaccination began.
If you want to argue that vaccinations don’t prevent all transmissions then sure. But no vaccine does that. It would be folly to have dealt with polio that way.
This is why last summer, mask mandates were re-introduced, even for the vaccinated. Why? If vaccinated people weren’t a statistical risk of transmission, why would mask mandates apply to them? (Answer: Because they knew then that vaccination didn’t prevent transmission… although they still had hope at that time it might significantly reduce it… but obviously not enough to not insist on mask wearing for them.)
Because the claim was never that vaccines prevent all transmissions. But they still strike a huge blow, as my friend demonstrates.
As such, vaccination is not meaningfully protecting the public. It’s protecting ourselves.
You are simply wrong, as my friend documents.
People should get vaccinated because they care for themselves and they care about the burden they would be on their family and society if they got seriously ill (which is what the vaccine actually meaningfully protects against). There is no need to force people to get vaccinated as it does very little to protect society. And in fact, I would add that it’s counter-productive. People dig in their heels when the state says they “must”. If every bit of effort that has been put in to making vaccines compulsory had instead been put into making vaccination easier (going into workplaces and schools to offer them, etc.) we’d have more people vaccinated than we do right now.
Getting vaccinated is incredibly easy, so I’m not sure what this means.
And this for me is the clincher. I remember when you used to sarcastically say “Sure it works in practice, but will it work in *theory*!” It is a great point and speaks to so much societal dysfunction. And along these lines, vaccine mandates are counter-productive. We’ll get far more people on board by encouraging and making it *really* easy than by making it a culture-war political mandate issue. Between “it’s not working to get more people vaccinated” and “it’s not helping to slow the spread of the virus”, it’s time to give up on covid vaccine mandates.
We made it easy and mandated (in some places) and it worked, as the results show–in places where people paid attention to the science and not to GOP culture war dogmas of spite. That is why Democrats have a lower incidence of COVID and Republicans are killing themselves and their friends and loved ones. Here is an NBC article that bends over backward to be “fair and balanced” to the insanity of the MAGA antivax cult, but at the end of the day, the supposed “puzzle” comes down to the fact that Dems did the right and smart thing and got vaxed and obeyed simply protocols like masking while MAGA idiots defiantly refused (for freedumm) and so sickened and died at higher rates. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/covid-death-rates-higher-republicans-democrats-why-rcna50883 It was a triumph of stupid selfishness and childishness, because the main motivator for the MAGA cult is mindless, self-destructive spite.
Instead, our focus should be on minimizing large indoor gatherings irrelevant of vaccination status, getting everyone to wear more effective masks (studies now show cloth masks are effectively worthless) when in in-door public settings, and a robust testing and quarantine plan (the availability of at-home tests is a step in the right direction).
All these things are good when the next surge comes. But the main thing–as my friend the expert demonstrates–is getting vaxxed. I’m glad you did. I hope you will abandon the false information that vaxxing does not reduce transmission. It does.