Last Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in people 16 or older. The approval marks the vanquishing of the last barrier to COVID-19 vaccinations; it sends the message that the vaccine is safe and effective.
The approval should also make vaccine mandates commonplace across the United States.
The move instills further confidence in the vaccine and its safety. While the odds of the vaccine being significantly harmful to Americans’ health after emergency approval from the FDA were always slim, it wasn’t zero.
But having the vaccine be fully improved should remove any doubt about its safety.
"If you're one of the millions of Americans who said that they will not get the shot until it has full and final approval of FDA: It has now happened," president Joe Biden said on Monday. "The moment you've been waiting for is here."
Acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that sentiment in a statement.
“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Woodcock said.
Some companies and organizations have already begun mandating vaccines. Biden called on the private sector to “step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people” and the Pentagon mandated vaccines for all active-duty troops on Wednesday.
Delta Air Lines also announced a new vaccine policy on Wednesday, requiring unvaccinated employees to pay an additional $200 a month in health insurance.
These moves should be commended and more companies should follow Delta and the Pentagon’s lead. Before the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, a case could be made for not implementing such requirements. There were still potential health risks and the effectiveness of the vaccine wasn’t clear, especially long-term.
But both of those issues have now been resolved, and while the jury is still out on how much a dip in effectiveness the vaccine takes over time, it’s clear that there is little — if not zero — downside to getting the shot. There’s no reason for companies to not mandate the vaccine, with the exception of backlash from anti-vaxxers, which should not stand in the way of public health.
What about your freedoms? It’s abundantly clear that mandating vaccines for participation in parts of society is in line with the constitution and laws of the US. Did you go to high school? You must’ve been subject to a vaccine mandate. Have you taken a cruise or travelled to a foreign country? You’ve probably been vaccinated on the recommendation of your doctor.
Vaccine mandates are already a normal part of society and have been for decades. The only remaining excuse for not mandating a COVID-19 vaccine in schools and places of work would be because of outstanding medical issues with the shot; that excuse has since been erased.
That’s not to say vaccine requirements should be without exception. There should be room within the rules for individuals who can’t be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. Delta’s approach to this problem of having unvaccinated individuals pay more in insurance is an appropriate measure to make room for people who can’t be vaccinated.
However, it’s abundantly clear that vaccine mandates are beneficial for public health and have little downside, both in terms of individual freedom and personal health. Companies should not hesitate to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine and states across the country — including Rhode Island — should encourage the private sector to do so immediately.
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