The worst of COVID-19 may be behind us. After an enormous spike in cases and deaths in August as a result of the delta variant, cases and deaths are declining throughout the country.
As of Oct. 6, 67 percent of vaccine-eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated while 77 percent have had at least one dose.
Since President Joe Biden’s September executive order requiring all federal employees, all employees of companies that have federal contracts and all companies who employee more than 100 people require vaccinations as a condition of employment, the vaccination rate in the U.S. has jumped by a robust 14 percentage points in a single month.
Companies that have mandated vaccination report compliance rates at 90 percent or higher. Meanwhile, Gallup polling shows that support for mandated vaccines continues to grow and is above 50 percent in all polled categories – private workplace employees (55 percent) federal employees (60 percent), companies with 100 or more employees (58 percent), hospital/health care workers (63 percent) and mandates that provide time-off for employees who have been vaccinated (68 percent).
This may run counter to much of the news we hear about mandates, which shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the old “airplane” phenomenon: It’s not news when an airplane lands safely, but big news when one doesn’t. Coverage of vaccine resistance is disproportionate to reality.
Here in Mississippi, federal mandates have less of an effect than in other states. For starters, there are more small employers (less than 100 employees), businesses that are not subject to the mandates.
Vaccination efforts have also been hampered by state leadership, which has consistently wavered on COVID policy and messaging.
Perhaps no better example of this is the IHL, which governs the state’s eight public universities.
In August, the IHL said its universities could mandate vaccinations. In September, it voted that universities could not mandate vaccinations. Last week, the IHL again reversed course, requiring all universities to vaccinate their employees. The latest reversal came when the IHL was informed that refusing to comply with the federal mandate could mean forfeiting more than $270 million in federal grants.
In a state that is the third most reliant on federal funds, change is often more a matter of (federal) dollars rather than “sense.”
That the state’s vaccination rate (52 percent have had one dose and 45 percent are fully vaccinated) continues to be the lowest in the nation should not be a surprise.
Yet if we should have learned anything over the last year-and-a-half, it is that there is a direct relationship between COVID requirements and the number of cases and death. When precautions and requirements are dictated, cases/deaths decline. When they are relaxed, cases and deaths spike. We’ve seen this pattern repeat itself multiple times since the pandemic started.
The current decline in COVID cases and deaths is good news. Our best means of maintaining that trajectory is through vaccinations. Many employers are requiring their employees to be vaccinated even though the federal mandate does not apply to them. Full disclosure: The Dispatch requires its employees to be vaccinated.
Those companies should resist the temptation to remove those requirements as COVID cases/deaths decline.
Rather, employers should view the decline as affirmation that the vaccine requirements are working.
And, of course, we urge all eligible Mississippians to get vaccinated, not because it is required, but because it’s the right thing to do – for themselves, their families and their community.
We’re headed in the right direction, but we still have a long, long way to go.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.