by Anna Augart-Welwood
May 31, 2021
After a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and quarantining, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine brings a new hope for the end of the pandemic. As of now, 284 million doses have been administered, and 45% of people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. This number will continue to increase, but it will never reach 100% unless vaccinations are made mandatory.
It is imperative that people get vaccinated as soon as possible. In Massachusetts, businesses and restaurants opened to full capacity on May 29, which could cause a spike in cases. And new coronavirus variants are beginning to spread, which are more fatal, contagious, and possibly vaccine-resistant because the mutations strengthen the virus’ so-called “spike protein.” If this spike protein continues to evolve, people who have been vaccinated or who have previously contracted the virus may be re-infected. Antibodies don’t bind to certain spike proteins as easily and take longer to fight off the virus. Similarly, the virus could become more contagious because the spike proteins of certain mutations fit better into cell receptors, proteins on the surface of a cell, allowing the virus to enter the cell more easily. For example, the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant was first discovered in the United Kingdom and is thought to be up to 70% more contagious than the original strain. The five notable variants in the United States are B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429. The B.1.1.7 mutation was detected in the United States in December 2020, the B.1.351 and P.1 mutations in January 2021, and the B.1.427 and B.1.429 mutations in February 2021. According to the CDC, these five variants spread more quickly and easily than others. This could put a strain on healthcare resources and lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists believe that these mutations could cause more severe symptoms and could even be deadlier than the strain that has dominated in the US.
However, we could prevent the virus from mutating further and becoming more dangerous by mandating the vaccine. Workplaces and schools could require that all staff members and students get the COVID-19 vaccine, medical conditions permitting. But according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one quarter of Americans do not want the vaccine. From that quarter, if the vaccine were required for school or work, 9% would get vaccinated, 12% said they would still probably not take the vaccine, and 15% were completely opposed to vaccination, even knowing it is completely safe. To put this into perspective, 70-90% of a population need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Assuming we reach herd immunity, we must maintain it, possibly through additional booster vaccines, because immunity can be lost over time. But even if the coronavirus vaccine were mandatory, it would be difficult to enforce, especially considering the 15% who are against it. Some possible solutions include requiring vaccination for people who cross state borders as well as mandatory vaccination in schools and workplaces. Educational campaigns and efforts to depoliticize the vaccine may help, but there will still be extremists who disregard scientific evidence. However, when education and mandates are combined, far more people will likely get vaccinated. For example, during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, campaigns and marketing strategies were used to portray the disease as a common enemy, not as a matter of politics, causing more people to get vaccinated against it. Additionally, the measles vaccine was required by schools in the 1970s, and after the mandate, over 90% of children got the vaccine. While these situations only required one solution, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much stigma and misinformation about the vaccine that not only education but also a mandate are necessary to achieve herd immunity.
It is unfortunate that we live in a society where, because so many people are skeptical of vaccines, we have to consider a mandate. But education and mandates could counter this skepticism. One of the core values of the United States is liberty and justice for all. While some may argue that a vaccine mandate infringes on their freedom, in fact, getting a vaccine is a matter of public health and safety. We must work together and make a community effort to beat a common enemy instead of politicizing it. If anything, getting vaccinated gives people more freedom to travel and live their lives again.
“About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 20, 2021.
Brink, Susan. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With A Vaccine: How Polio Campaign Beat Vaccine Hesitancy.” NPR, May 3, 2021.
Drillinger, Meagan. “We Eradicated Polio from the U.S. with Vaccines. Can We Do the Same with COVID-19?” Healthline, May 3, 2021.
“More than 1.64 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker.” Bloomberg, May 23, 2021.
Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “A new survey finds that about a quarter of Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.” The New York Times, December 15, 2020.