There have been many good public health policies from governors in red states during the pandemic’s early stages: protecting nursing homes and senior living communities, ensuring clinics prioritized the at-risk population for vaccine availability, and allowing the young and healthy to resume normal activities faster. Now they must take additional steps to protect those who cannot safely be vaccinated and the COVID-19 recovered.
There is a loud drumbeat for the private sector and local leaders to do what the federal government cannot: mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a proof of vaccination will be required for indoor dining establishments and gyms. Walmart, Disney, and Tyson Foods have announced a mandatory vaccination requirement for employees. Never mind that mandating a treatment still considered investigational is unprecedented. For some Americans, it is dangerous.
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Pete Parada, the drummer for the band The Offspring, made an announcement on Twitter recently. Following a medical history that includes a preexisting condition and successfully recovering from COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, his doctor advised him not to take the vaccine. In Pete’s own words:
Given my personal medical history and the side-effect profile of these jabs, my doctor has advised me not to get a shot at this time. I caught the virus over a year ago, it was mild for me – so I am confident I’d be able to handle it again, but I’m not so certain I’d survive another post-vaccination round of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which dates back to my childhood and has evolved to be progressively worse over my lifetime. Unfortunately for me, (and my family – who is hoping to keep me around a bit longer) the risks far outweigh the benefits.
Because of his medical history and his doctor’s entirely appropriate assessment, the music industry has decided that Pete is unsafe to be around. As a result, he is being kicked out of the band. He will likely be prohibited him from touring with other acts as well. The music industry has gone full authoritarian on vaccines, and no exceptions are allowed.
Pete tweeted his story to hearten others who feel discriminated against for perfectly valid medical reasons. He wanted to let them know they are not alone. Neither is he. I know four people personally whose doctors have told them vaccination is not advisable at this time. All of them recovered from COVID-19 previously and have a medical history that substantially increases the risk of immunization. They all need to work, move about in society, and remain free from punishment for something that should fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There is not a single employer policy I have heard about that does not punish such individuals by requiring continued mask-wearing and intrusive, repetitive COVID testing in the absence of symptoms. Republican governors need to protect these individuals from loss of employment and discrimination.
There are three actions that Republican governors should take immediately. If governors are not willing to prohibit all vaccine mandates, they must make employers and essential services liable for any vaccine injury suffered due to their coercion through a mandate. In Georgia, for example, businesses are not liable for any alleged transmission of COVID-19 as the result of an individual entering their establishment. If they are held harmless for transmission, they should be held responsible for any harm after requiring an individual to take an investigational therapy.
Next, they must demand that a statement from a licensed medical professional stating that vaccination for an individual is not appropriate will serve as an exception for any vaccine mandate policy. The executives and politicians making these rules are not medical professionals and need to be required to listen when one makes a recommendation based on their clinical judgment.
Finally, to follow the science, Republican governors should require that employer policies include recovery from COVID-19 as a substitute for vaccination. Israel is the only country that tracked patient recovery and provided recovered patients with a green passport during reopening. To date, with extensive and detailed data tracking that includes the Delta variant, these individuals have not had a significant rate of reinfection and were not found to be a source of transmission previous to the current spike.
In fact, Israel extended the green pass for recovered patients through the end of the year based on new studies like the one from the Cleveland Clinic and Emory University. The former found no reinfections in the previously infected. The latter is a longitudinal study that found durable immunity involving multiple immune system components. Pfizer’s own data demonstrates declining vaccine efficacy in preventing infection, and boosters are already under discussion. Emory’s data does find the same decline in recovered patients.
Republican governors are all that stand between the medically vulnerable and the medical authoritarianism coming out of the current administration. If you are interested in encouraging them to protect people like Pete and millions of others from needless discrimination, you can find out how to contact your governor on the USAGov website and your state legislators on Open States. There is also an email template you can download to assist in communication.