September 13, 2021

The COVID vaccines available in the U.S. are safe and effective. When the vaccines first came out early in the year, many people were concerned about side effects. But now we know so much more. There are over 150 million in the U.S. alone who have gotten the vaccine without any problems. Some, like myself, had a mildly sore arm for a couple of hours after the shot but serious side effects are extremely rare—much less common than for common medications like antibiotics or even aspirin.

False stories about dangers of the vaccine are being spread by some Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, and right-wing media. Most of these are the same ones spreading the big lie that Trump won the election. Then, there are our friends and relatives who get a post, an email or YouTube clip, and pass it along without checking the source. These false rumors are literally killing people.

Emergency rooms and intensive care units around the country are filling up again with people sick with COVID— almost all of them unvaccinated. 1199ers will be on the front lines and among the most vulnerable. If you are unvaccinated, you are much more likely to get infected and infect others close to you. If you are unvaccinated and get infected, you are much more likely than those vaccinated to get very sick or even die. Even worse, until almost everyone is vaccinated, the virus has time to mutate and become a greater threat than the delta variant, now tearing through the country.

One major hospital system in New York announced that employees will have to get vaccinated to keep their jobs. The national VA system has done the same. Instead of the boss forcing us to do what we should do anyway, let’s use our power to insist it be done the right way. For example, the union should work with management to arrange small meetings on company time to allow all employees to ask questions and get the true facts about the vaccine and all COVID issues. On-site vaccinations should be organized during work time to help those with difficult schedules.

The very small number of workers with documented, valid medical reasons that prohibit vaccination should be given jobs where they can be masked and stay apart from patients and other staff.

Many years ago, before there were laws against indoor smoking, many workers smoked on the job. When my institution banned indoor smoking, union members who were chain smokers were afraid they would lose their jobs and asked us to file grievances to allow them to smoke as a “past practice.” Our chapter delegate body refused. The smoking was a danger to other union members as well as the smokers themselves. It took a lot of conversations and education, but eventually it became clear that a ban on indoor smoking made sense, and the right thing to do was to help members quit smoking. Vaccinations are similar: they make sense and will help protect everyone, provided everyone participates. But with the right-wing media campaign against vaccination misleading too many of us, we need to continue talking to one another and sharing the facts about vaccines. I, for one, think vaccines should be mandatory. I know others disagree, but what we can agree on is that no one should lose their job, and it’s incumbent on us all to do the right thing.

Hillel Cohen, DrPH
Retiree, NYC

1199 Magazine | July - August 2021