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Sensemaker: Vaccine mandates

Sensemaker: Vaccine mandates

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Human remains found in a Florida environmental park were confirmed to be those of Brian Laundrie, the missing fiancé of the murdered blogger Gabby Petito. 
  • The Queen spent Wednesday night in hospital for “preliminary investigations” after cancelling a trip to Northern Ireland.
  • The actor and producer Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the movie set of Rust that killed his director of photography and injured his director, according to a local’s sheriff office in New Mexico.

Vaccine mandates

Most people would get two doses of a Covid jab for free, but Nick Rolovich couldn’t be tempted for $3.1 million. That was his salary as American football coach at Washington State University before he was fired on Monday after refusing to be vaccinated against Covid. Rolovich, the highest paid public official in Washington, defied a mandate requiring state workers to get jabbed. Given that, and given a consultation on making Covid vaccination compulsory in the NHS ends today, it’s a good time to ask if mandates work.

In the US, where vaccination rates have declined, Joe Biden has already gone with the stick rather than the carrot. In September he announced Covid measures that required all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated. When added to a proposed rule for employees in large private companies to be double jabbed or tested regularly, his measures covered two thirds of the US workforce. He didn’t mince his words. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden told vaccine refuseniks at the time. “And your refusal has cost all of us.”

A number of states and companies in the US have imposed mandates of their own. Here are some results:

Public sector. New York City announced on Wednesday that police, firefighters and other public employees had to be vaccinated or go on unpaid leave. But even before this the city and state had led the way on mandates for public employees. The city’s requirement for school workers to be vaccinated ahead of a deadline earlier this month led to a vaccination rate of 95 per cent. A state mandate for hospital and care home workers increased take-up from around 75 per cent to 92 per cent in less than two months, with some providers seeing rates in the very high nineties. There are several examples of public sector organisations losing less than 1 per cent of employees to vaccine refusal. San Francisco, Massachusetts and Washington state have also announced vaccine mandates of varying severity for public employees.

Elsewhere, France and Greece have imposed nationwide mandates on healthcare workers, while Canada is requiring government workers to prove they’re vaccinated by the end of October.

Private sector. Not everyone waited for Biden’s announcement to act. After hearing that one of his pilots had died from Covid at just 57, the CEO of United Airlines announced a vaccine mandate over the summer. At the time he thought no more than 70 per cent of his workforce were vaccinated. By the end of September that number had risen to 99.5 per cent of those who didn’t have exemptions. Tyson Foods, the meat producer, has a 91 per cent vaccination rate ahead of a November deadline. Before the company announced a mandate, that number was below 50 per cent. When it comes to individuals, for every Nick Rolovich there is an Andrew Wiggins. The Golden State Warriors basketball player eventually got vaccinated after the NBA refused to give him a religious exemption.

Gentler approaches. More lenient policies can also bring results. Kaiser Permanente, the California healthcare giant, now requires its workers to get vaccinated or tested regularly. Their vaccination rate increased from 78 per cent to 92. France saw its vaccination rate jump after rolling out a health pass that requires the holder either to be double jabbed or show a negative test to get into bars, restaurants and other venues.

In general, mandates seem to prompt compliance rather than rebellion. The Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR organisation, found that between December 2020 and September 2021 the proportion of employees who’d rather leave their job than get jabbed fell from 28 per cent to below two per cent.

But… mandates aren’t without costs to employers. Sometimes they don’t work as well as expected. Last month a New York state medical centre put 20 per cent of its nursing home staff on unpaid leave after they refused the vaccine. At other times employers don’t have enough leeway even if take-up is very high: in stretched workforces, losing 1 per cent of employees can be a problem. Sajid Javid, the UK’s health secretary, has told unvaccinated care workers to “go and get another job” if they don’t want to get jabbed, but care homes already have 170,000 vacancies. Their vaccination deadline is 11 November, which Care England has warned is too soon for providers struggling with “a multitude of workforce pressures”.

Real-world evidence suggests vaccine mandates can have a dramatically positive impact on take-up. But with staff shortages across almost every sector in the UK – and a huge labour shortage in the US too – there’s little slack in the system. In some parts of the economy employees may have more power to resist vaccines than they think, even if it’s not the right thing to do.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Murder of Sir David Amess
Ali Harbi Ali was charged with the murder of Sir David Amess, the veteran MP killed last Friday during a constituency surgery in Essex. A court heard Ali also targeted two other unnamed MPs. He is accused of visiting the home of one, the constituency surgery of another and the Houses of Parliament by way of reconnaissance. It’s been a week in which politicians and commentators have scrambled for solutions after Sir David’s murder, ranging from increasing security measures for politicians to banning anonymous social media accounts. But the truth is every change comes with a cost – whether to the openness of the relationship between MP and constituent, or to the crucial role anonymity plays in online activism. It’s also hard to know what changes are even relevant when so much is still unclear about this attack. Yesterday Ali was accused of deciding on a plan to kill an MP over two years ago.

New things technology, science, engineering

Las Vegas loop
Elon Musk won approval to build a network of tunnels under Las Vegas to allow passengers to ride Teslas to different parts of the city. It’s been a drawn-out process with permutations that have included ideas for autonomous buses and electric sleds. The tunnels will be 29 miles long and are aiming to zip 57,000 passengers an hour around Las Vegas. Plans for other loops in Texas and Florida are also on the table. Musk’s Boring Company claims a Vegas-style tunnel would “alleviate congestion in any city”. Some might say encouraging car usage of any sort is bad – and that there’s already a higher capacity way of easing congestion called a train. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

It’s super effective!
A Pfizer trial to examine the real-world protection of a third jab showed it reduces the chance of getting symptomatic Covid by more than 95 per cent compared to those who have only had two doses. Of the 5,000 people studied who received a placebo, 109 were later infected with symptoms. Among the other 5,000, whose third dose came an average of 11 months after their second, just five got sick with the disease. This ought to sharpen minds in the UK, where early vaccination success means waning immunity has reared its head sooner than in other countries. About half the eight million people eligible for boosters in the UK still haven’t had them, but in many cases not for want of trying. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the NHS started allowing people to book a booster themselves. Before that, it was invite only.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cretaceans craze
The remains of the largest known triceratops sold for nearly $8 million, smashing an estimate suggesting it might go for less than a quarter of that. The eight-metre long fossil is more than 66 million years old and named Big John after the owner of the South Dakota land where it was discovered. An anonymous US collector bought the skeleton at auction in Paris. This will be a source of chagrin for museums and other scientific institutions priced out of the dinosaur market by spiralling bidding wars. As curious reporters, we can’t help but be gripped by questions about the private owners. We know Russell Crowe once bought a Mosasaur skull from Leonardo DiCaprio, but who else is in the market for dinosaurs? Do they put them in the bedroom or kitchen? Do they hang tinsel on them at Christmas? If you have answers, please get in touch.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Crypto eyeballs
A start-up called Worldcoin has scanned more than 100,000 people’s eyes in exchange for free cryptocurrency. If that doesn’t sound weird enough, it’s done it by sending 30 physical silver orbs to users across the globe to carry out the scans. These users are rewarded for signing up more people, who can get a unique code that can be exchanged for digital tokens as long as they are willing to have an image of their eyeballs captured. You might ask how 30 orbs can possibly generate 100,000 users, the answer to which is industriousness: one orb owner in Chile has signed up 18,000 people by hiring a team of 20 eyeball scanners who work in shifts. One of Worldcoin’s founders, Alex Blania, brushed off privacy concerns by claiming that the orbs permanently delete the highly sensitive biometric data after the scan is encrypted and converted into a unique redeemable code. Yesterday the company said it wanted eventually to send out 4,000 orbs per month. Its stated mission is to bring cryptocurrency to the masses. Early investors include Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital company, and Reid Hoffman, the billionaire who helped found LinkedIn.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Xavier Greenwood

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images, Worldcoin