The President's Column: We Strongly Recommend the COVID VaccineSeptember 13, 2021
We are all together in the battle against COVID-19.
I know that I speak for the entire 1199SEIU family when I say that we have never in our lifetimes faced a challenge like we’ve faced these past 18 months with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a New Yorker, I will never forget the weeks when the country’s largest city shut down completely. There wasn’t a sound on the streets day or night—except the sirens of ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
At the same time, refrigerator trucks stacked up in front of our hospitals and nursing homes, serving as temporary morgues. I’m sure so many of you have your own grim memories, wherever you work and live.
We all wore masks and other PPE (when they became available) and socially distanced, knowing that this biggest public health emergency in 100 years would never end until a COVID-19 vaccine was found and made available to everyone. Now— after nearly four million COVID cases and over 620,000 deaths—we finally have vaccines. This is good news indeed, especially now that COVID-19 cases and deaths are again beginning to rise with the emergence of the delta variant, which is even more contagious than the standard coronavirus. Throughout the country, the delta variant accounts for more 70 percent of new cases.
We are, of course, all human beings with families and loved ones.
We’re also dedicated healthcare workers caring for our patients and clients. So, a vaccine that can eradicate this terrible disease is something to not only welcome, but to support.
Do vaccines work? Of course, they do. Because vaccines virtually eliminated several other dreaded diseases in the United States, many people are completely unfamiliar with smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and other severe illnesses. Even before COVID, proof of vaccination was a matter of course for some travel abroad and to register for school. These steps helped wipe out disease. So indeed, it is wonderful that we now have effective COVID vaccines that are readily available and without cost. The bad news is that only about two-thirds of us in the United States have had at least one shot of the two dose vaccination. And in many states and among certain sectors of the population, the figures are much lower.
Broadly speaking, only half the people in our country are fully vaccinated. Recently, Los Angeles and other cities started to re-mask. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) followed up with a recommendation that vaccinated people in certain parts of the country wear masks indoors.
The thing that makes the COVID-19 so dangerous is that you can have it but not have any symptoms and still spread it to dozens of people, some of whom will die. (Even some vaccinated people have contracted COVID, but few have had serious illness, let alone died, as a result.)
In the meantime, many people are resisting getting vaccinated. A major reason for this resistance is a sustained campaign by far-right media personalities and political figures who say that the government’s effort to convince people to vaccinate is an infringement of their personal freedoms. But in the face of the biggest public health emergency in a century, it’s actually the government’s responsibility to safeguard the population. Years ago, there was great resistance to government’s laws against smoking indoors in public spaces to protect people from cancer causing secondhand smoke. Now it is widely accepted as common sense. The same is true with mandating seat belts in automobiles: now we know that seat belts save lives. Freedom is not the same as individual preference—not when it endangers others.
Make no mistake, COVID-19 vaccines save lives. Yale University epidemiologist Alston Galvalone estimates that in the first six months of this year of vaccine availability, 279,000 lives were saved, and 1.25 million hospitalizations were prevented in the United States.
For anyone with concerns about risks and side-effects of the vaccines, we strongly recommend that you speak to your doctor… That said, we also know that some members have health or religious exemptions or other reasons for not taking the vaccines. All of you are valued 1199SEIU members and we represent you all.
At the same time, virtually all new coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. involve the unvaccinated. As CDC director, Dr. Rachel Walensky says, we now have “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” For those who are concerned that the vaccines come with a risk, consider that the risk of not being vaccinated may mean severe illness or death.
For anyone with concerns about risks and side-effects of the vaccines, we strongly recommend that you speak to your doctor. It might help to know that, according to the American Medical Association, more than 96 percent of all physicians in the United States are fully vaccinated.
That said, we also know that some members have health or religious exemptions or other reasons for not taking the vaccines. All of you are valued 1199SEIU members and we represent every one of you.
Our Union strongly recommends the vaccine, and we urge employers to continue taking all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of patients and members, including the provision of proper PPE, continued education, and through regular COVID testing. As in every struggle, we are one union, and we are all together in this battle against COVID-19.