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Editorial: It’s time for local vaccine mandates

COVID-19 Editor's Pick Kirkwood and East Lake Metro ATL Trending

Editorial: It’s time for local vaccine mandates

Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Mallory Gray draws up a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during DeKalb Pediatric Center’s vaccine clinic on May 12, 2021. On May 10, 2021 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents age 12 through 15. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The recent COVID-19 outbreak at Drew Charter School may well be a canary in the coal mine for how this school year will play out if our local officials don’t take swift action.

This week the school had to send more than 100 students into quarantine. Four staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 were not vaccinated. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, only a third of the vaccine eligible student population at Drew is vaccinated.

This has obvious implications for our other public schools, which will open their doors to students next week.

Whether students and teachers can be legally forced to take the vaccine is an open-ended question and probably requires jumping legal hurdles, largely because the COVID-19 vaccines were granted emergency approval by the FDA. But Atlanta Public Schools, which gave a charter to Drew, is considering mandatory vaccines for its students and staff, according to 11 Alive.

In our view, the mandates should not stop there and should be extended to all public employees as well as public school students eligible for the vaccine. This mandate would obviously not include people who can’t take the vaccine for legitimate medical reasons. But the mandate would protect those people as well.

There will likely be legal challenges to any such requirement, but that will take time to work its way through the courts. A vaccine mandate could make an immediate, tangible impact on our public health and safety. President Biden has said he is supportive of these mandates and recently made vaccinations mandatory for all federal employees.

It is time to admit that our policy of strongly encouraging people to vaccinate is not working. DeKalb County only has a 45 percent vaccination rate. That’s pitiful and embarrassing for a county that’s the home of the CDC.

We’ve given the public months to decide to avail themselves of this vaccine and the proven protection it affords us. Instead, many of our friends and neighbors have quietly chosen to refuse the vaccine, to shift the responsibility onto the rest of us.

It’s a disaster. The county is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, based on our most recent COVID-19 reports. Since July 1 in DeKalb County, our COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people have increased from 27 cases per 100,000 to 160 cases per 100,000, a 492 percent increase. The test positivity rate jumped from 1.2 percent on July 1, to 8.1 percent on July 29. The only silver lining is we haven’t seen a surge in deaths. There were only seven deaths reported from July 1 to July 29. But who knows how long that trend will continue?

The vaccine hold outs are incubators for deadlier and more transmissible forms of the virus that are testing the weaknesses of the vaccine. It’s not unreasonable to worry about the rise of a variant that will render the current vaccine all but useless.

That’s not a failure of science. That failure is on the members of our community who have chosen to gamble with their lives and the lives of their neighbors.  Some have honest questions and reservations about getting the shot, and they should consult their doctors for the best information about the vaccine. But there’s also a contingent of vaccine hold outs who are doing it solely for political reasons.

The public sector shouldn’t enable them. Schools need to remain open. We can ill afford another year of inadequate virtual learning. If the teachers and students will not voluntarily get their vaccine, they must be required to. And so should all of their counterparts working for local governments.

If that causes some employees to quit, that’s fine. A temporary staffing shortage is more survivable than a deadly COVID surge.

To those of you who are still refusing to get the vaccine, despite all the evidence showing that you should, please accept this important message from the bottom of our hearts:

Please get the vaccine. Your choices affect all of us. And if you are never going to get the vaccine under any circumstances, then please self-quarantine so the rest of us can move on with our lives.

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