Writer’s note: The following is an excerpt from a memo I issued to The Dispatch’s 35 employees on Thursday. It is being shared here in an effort to encourage other employers to consider vaccine mandates for their staff. Since writing the memo, Baptist has issued a vaccine requirement for 22 of its hospitals, including the one in Columbus. I suspect some readers will be inclined to attempt to refute some of the claims below in a letter to the editor. I respectfully request that any such letters be backed up with credible citations.
I am seriously considering implementing a vaccine requirement for all employees of The Dispatch. I know such a decision would not sit well with some of you, but you are going to see more and more organizations do it. The US Military, United Airlines, University of Mississippi Medical Center and others have implemented or are in the process of implementing vaccine requirements.
I’d like to state some facts that have led me to seriously consider a vaccine mandate for The Dispatch:
• COVID-19 is extremely contagious. (Wednesday), more than 4,400 new cases were reported in Mississippi. That’s the highest number since the pandemic began.
In the US, it kills about 1.7% of those infected. That’s significantly more than flu. But it’s the long term symptoms — “Long COVID” —that are really troubling. A study from earlier this year found that about 1 in 7 people with COVID have symptoms — many severe — that linger for five weeks or more. We don’t yet fully understand the long term consequences of Long COVID.
• An infection is disruptive to our business. Of course, the rest of us are willing to fill in when someone has to quarantine, but over time, continual absences throughout the building will negatively impact our operations. Many of you are already stretched thin, and we can’t have a rolling series of prolonged absences.
• The vaccines are highly effective. The mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines in particular are some of the most effective vaccines in the history of mankind. They were approximately 95% effective against the original strain and initial studies are showing they are approximately 90% effective against the Delta variant. People who study these things say those numbers are nearly unprecedented.
• The vaccines are safe. The COVID vaccines underwent the largest trials in the history of vaccines before receiving FDA emergency use authorization with very few side effects and no deaths. Medical experts say the risks from COVID greatly outweigh any potential risks from the vaccine. Some are nervous because the vaccines haven’t received full approval from the FDA. I understand that. The FDA is expected to give full approval to Pfizer later this month. Moderna and J&J should follow.
• So-called breakthrough infections are happening, but the ICU at hospitals are filled with unvaccinated people who got the disease. The vaccine protects nearly everyone from the worst cases of COVID.
There is a lot of misinformation floating around. And even the credible information is sometimes hard to understand. The bottom line for me is that exposures and infections are hazardous to our people and disruptive to our business, and both should be minimized.
Most of us — myself included — have already received the vaccine. For those who haven’t, I realize a vaccine requirement could potentially impact your employment with the paper. For that reason, I wanted to give advance warning that I am seriously considering one. If you are unvaccinated and don’t think you could work here with a vaccine requirement, now is the time to talk to your department head or to me directly. I value the work each of you does and want your input as we navigate these unprecedented times.
The vaccine is available for free at area pharmacies. My wife and son recently got their first shot at Walgreens and said it was a very easy process. If you need help making an appointment, see Mary Ann in accounting.
Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.