Despite the fact that most individuals have less than a one percent chance of dying from COVID-19, there is a big push for everyone to be vaccinated against the virus.
According to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, as of April 8, the United States is administering 3,029,052 doses a day, and at that pace in three months, 75 percent of the country could be vaccinated. The White House unveiled a $1.5 billion campaign on March 15 to bolster confidence in the COVID vaccine.
Target: Young People
The campaign to vaccinate has expanded to young people and goes beyond suggestion. For example, Cornell University said it will block students from returning next year if they fail to show proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. A number of colleges and universities are following suit. According to the CDC, there have been 1,996 deaths involving COVID-19 in the 18-29 age group, out of a total of 75,339 deaths from all causes in the 2020/2021 time period.
Two prominent voices called out Notre Dame University for its goal of having as “as many members of the campus community vaccinated as possible.” In a letter on April 27 to the editor of the campus newspaper, The Observer, Thomas Paprocki, the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois and adjunct professor at the Notre Dame Law School and Gerard Bradley, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School wrote “a low-risk person like the typical Notre Dame student, the chance of a severe reaction to the vaccine is several times higher than the chance of having one after contracting COVID. Notre Dame should respect these students’ voluntary choices.”
Starting April 19, Washington, D.C. will offer COVID-19 vaccines to 16- and 17-year-olds with at least one parent present. The move comes as Pfizer and Moderna try to expand their emergency use authorization (EUA) to distribute the vaccines to younger age groups. CDC states 251 children have died from the COVID-19 alone, a fraction of the 39,620 deaths from all causes. (see related article, page 18).
Employers are requiring workers, regardless of age, to be fully vaccinated against the virus. A corrections officer in New Mexico, Isaac Legaretta, is believed to be one of the first employees to take his boss to court over the demand.
“This is a case where the supervisor is just dead wrong,” Ana Garner, Issac Legaretta’s attorney, told the Activist Post on March 8. “They absolutely don’t have the right to force anyone to take an experimental medical product,”
Private organizations are adding fuel to the vaccine mandate debate by restricting travel and service through the use of a vaccine “passport,” a phone app that would show verification of vaccine compliance.
The Biden administration admitted to providing “guidance” to private developers. On April 6, the White House press secretary stated there would be no federal mandate for vaccine credentialing, after the governors of Florida, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas spoke out loudly against such an idea. Vaccine passports have raised civil liberty concerns (see related article, page 19).
Vaccine passports may be hard to duck for people traveling abroad. Leaders in the EU have backed a “digital green certificate,” either paper or digital record, to enable faster travel across borders. Certificates would be given to those who test negative or show proof of a COVID vaccine. According to a report by the BBC on March 26, the EU is working with the World Health Organization to develop such a system. Israel already has “green pass” up and running.
The United States appears to be taking steps in that direction. On April 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave new guidance on traveling within the United States, stating fully vaccinated travelers do not need to test before or after their trip and won’t have to quarantine.
Safety, Efficacy Concerns
One reason for the backlash against vaccine mandates has been safety and efficacy concerns, especially for a product that has been in use for under one year. Vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson received emergency use authorization after several months, not years of trials, and long-term effects from the products are generally unknown.
Several events surrounding distribution have created hesitancy. In Washington state, for example, 102 individuals who were fully vaccinated tested positive for COVID-19 weeks later. Similar reports have occurred in Michigan and Minnesota.
A testing site in Colorado temporarily shut down after 11 people developed an adverse reaction to the Johnson and Johnson shot on April 8. Days later, testing sites distributing the vaccine in Georgia and North Carolina closed after several dozen more people suffered reactions. The response prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on April 13 to halt the Johnson and Johnson rollout out of an “abundance of caution.”
Deaths after vaccines, as reported in the Vaccine Adverse Event Report System, have shown an unusual pattern, suggesting another explanation besides “natural occurrence.”
Another troubling issue has been informed consent. An advocacy group, ICAN, demanded that Michigan and New York remove vaccine promotional material from social media posts that contained misinformation. The ads stated, among other claims, that the vaccines have been proven to be 100 percent effective, had gone through the same research and testing as other vaccines prevent hospitalization and death, or have no reports of serious side effects.
Taxpayers have already paid for the shots, so COVID shots are free. But individuals should be aware of a couple of facts before lining up for vaccination, says Jane Orient, M.D. the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“The products (experimental biologic agents, a form of gene therapy) are not FDA approved,” Orient said. “They have an EUA. By law, such products cannot be mandatory, and you should have to sign a detailed informed consent. Also, manufacturers are immune from product liability. Argentina and Brazil haven’t gotten Pfizer product because they have so far declined to pledge sovereign assets such as military bases to indemnify Pfizer in the event of harm.”
Orient says it is too soon to know what the long-term effects of the vaccines will be. Not only that, but there have been usual death patterns associated with the shots, notably in Israel, where they’ve been widely distributed, and in German nursing homes.
Conscience Objection Concerns
On March 2, a joint statement from the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), Catholic Medical Associations, Christian Medical, and Dental Association, and National Association of Catholic Nurses, U.S.A. called on the protection of individual conscience in accepting or refuting the experimental COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is fundamental that the right of individual conscience is preserved,” the statement said. “Coerced vaccination would irreparably harm Constitutional rights and the patient-physician relationship. Conscience is an individual belief influenced by many factors such as faith, culture, family, and reason. Each individual makes a conscientious decision in any given situation. Respect for conscience rights is always of primary importance…Governing authorities must respect an individual’s right to accept or decline a vaccine.”
In their letter to the Observer, Patricki and Bradley of Notre Dame Law School make mention of religious objections.
“A religious, moral or other exemption of conscience should be ascertained not by documents, but by a simple conversation seeking only to establish that the individual has a sincerely held, reasonable belief that they should not receive the vaccine. This would be in accord with the teaching of Pope Francis, who has said, ‘The conscience is the interior place for listening to the truth, to goodness, for listening to God; it is the inner place of my relationship with Him, the One who speaks to my heart and helps me to discern, to understand the way I must take and, once the decision is made, to go forward, to stay faithful.’
AnneMarie Schieber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.
Ashley Bateman (Ashley Bateman (email@example.com) also contributed to this article.
This article was updated on April 31, 2021.