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Boosting Vaccinations

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Vaccine mandates are controversial. They’re also effective.

  • Before Houston Methodist became one of the first hospital systems in the U.S. to mandate Covid-19 vaccines, about 85 percent of its employees were vaccinated. After the mandate, the share rose to about 98 percent, with the remaining 2 percent receiving exemptions for medical or religious reasons, Bloomberg’s Carey Goldberg reported. Only about 0.6 percent of employees quit or were fired.

  • Schools — including Indiana University and many private colleges — that require students and workers to get vaccinated have reported extremely high uptake.

  • A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of Americans who had been opposed to getting vaccinated and later changed their minds found that mandates — or restrictions on the unvaccinated — were one common reason. One 51-year-old man told Kaiser that he began to feel as if he had “limited options without it.”

  • The French government will soon require that people show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test to eat at a restaurant, attend a movie or participate in many other activities. After President Emmanuel Macron announced the policy last week, the number of vaccine appointments surged. Italy announced a similar policy yesterday, The Times’s Marc Santora explains.

It’s true that these mandates often generate intense criticism. In France, more than 100,000 people marched to protest Macron’s policy. In the U.S., critics sued, unsuccessfully so far, to stop Indiana University’s mandate. Some Republican politicians have also tried to stop mandates, including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio.

The mandates are also not 100 percent effective. Some people will receive exemptions, as was the case at Houston Methodist. A small number may forge vaccine records. And some vaccinated people will still contract mild versions of Covid, through so-called breakthrough infections.

But even with the opposition and the exceptions, mandates can play a major role in reducing the spread of Covid and saving lives. That’s especially true now that the Delta variant is fueling a rise in cases. “The takeaway message remains, if you’re vaccinated, you are protected,” Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, told our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli. “You are not going to end up with severe disease, hospitalization or death.”

Covid is a new disease, and the debates over Covid policy can seem new, as well. But they’re often not wholly new. They instead echo longstanding debates. Vaccine mandates fall into this category.

Throughout history, societies have struggled with when and how to require vaccines. Opponents of mandates have argued that individuals should be allowed to make their own health decisions — and bear the consequences: What, they ask, is more personal than deciding whether to inject a medicine into one’s body? Supporters of mandates have replied that society has a duty to protect its citizens, including those who cannot be inoculated (like young children and some immunocompromised people, in the case of Covid) and are therefore put at risk by people who voluntarily refuse vaccines.

For these reasons, vaccine mandates cause intense disputes. But when supporters win the argument, public health has often benefited. Guy Nicolette, an administrator at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out to The Washington Post that colleges have long required other vaccines, like the one for measles. “It’s staggering how well a mandate works on a college campus,” he said.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, Indiana University’s chief health officer, has noted that the country’s victories over many diseases — including smallpox, polio, mumps, rubella and diphtheria — have depended on vaccine mandates by states or local governments. “That’s how the country achieves real herd immunity,” Carroll wrote in The Times. (In the U.S., a national mandate may be unconstitutional.)

When states and school districts have opted not to require vaccines, a disease can often spread needlessly, Carroll explained. That has been the case with human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease known as HPV that can cause cancer. It’s also been the case with influenza, which kills about 35,000 Americans in a typical flu season.

Covid now seems certain to join influenza and HPV as diseases that American society chooses to accept. But it is a choice. Companies, schools and communities that decide to enact vaccine mandates will almost certainly save American lives by doing so.

Mark Barnes, a former health official in New York City, told Bloomberg that he expected the number of these mandates to grow in coming months. “We’re going to see more vaccine mandates by large organizations of all kinds,” he predicted.

More virus news:

  • The C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned that the U.S. was at “another pivotal point.”

  • As Americans have shed masks and gathered together, viruses that cause drippy noses, coughs and sneezes have returned.

  • The N.F.L. said teams that experience an outbreak among unvaccinated players might have to forfeit a game.

  • Mississippi urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will hear arguments this fall.

  • The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Cuban officials accused of cracking down on protesters this month.

  • Civil rights groups urged President Biden to push Congress to pass two voting-rights bills “by whatever means necessary,” including ending the Senate filibuster.

  • The F.B.I. said it had referred tips to the Trump White House during a 2018 investigation into Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats called it proof that the investigation was a sham.

  • U.S. military veterans are trying to help their former interpreters in Afghanistan escape the country before the Taliban can find them.

Roni Mazumdar and Chintan Pandya have big plans for Indian food. Aside from running their successful New York City restaurants (Pete Wells loved one, Rahi, when it opened), they want to expand fast-casual Indian food to the rest of the U.S. “Until we really reach the heart of the country,” Mazumdar told The Times, “I don’t think we can really move Indian cuisine forward.”

Opening an Indian restaurant can be complex. One of the reasons: People often feel they can dictate the level of spiciness, Pandya said. “Have you gone to your home and asked your mother, ‘Can you make a chicken, on a scale of 1 to 10 spice level, a 5?’”

Mazumdar told Forbes how he and Pandya were reimagining Indian food: “We’re going backward, unwrapping the unnecessary layers we put on our cuisine.” Here are more details on their plans, along with pictures of delicious dishes. — Claire Moses, a Morning writer


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