Choosing to do the right thing is a good thing
Vaccine mandates work. Just ask New York governor Kathy Hochul, whose state gave roughly 600,000 healthcare workers until Monday to get a Covid-19 jab or lose their jobs. Much naysaying ensued, accompanied by predictions that doctors, nurses, orderlies and other holdouts would quit en masse rather than allow a needle to compromise their liberty. They have chosen instead to do the right thing.
Thousands got their shots and, as of this week, 87 per cent of New York’s hospital workers were fully vaccinated — up from 77 per cent in mid-August. About 92 per cent of hospital staff have received at least one dose, as have some 92 per cent of nursing-home workers and 89 per cent of adult-care workers.
It may be too soon to say that workers in every sector of the economy across a country as regionally diverse as the United States will respond to vaccination deadlines in the same way. Covid-19 has taught that it pays to be humble about pandemic forecasting. But with the economic stakes so high, strong measures are worth the political risk. Hats off to Hochul, who imposed the New York mandate with clarity and courage, and got results.
Her stance was politically perilous, because New York’s hospitals are strained, and there is still strong opposition to vaccines and mandates throughout the state, particularly upstate. But a month after taking office, Hochul enforced the requirement and set up a command centre to monitor hospital staff shortages. She signed an executive order allowing retired healthcare workers, out-of-state medical professionals and others to provide care. She has also lined up National Guard personnel to be ready to help, but so far none have been needed.
Mandates for healthcare workers are being imposed elsewhere. Benchmark Senior Living, the biggest assisted-living network in New England, enforced mandates over the summer for its roughly 6,000 employees. Few of them quit. Houston Methodist, a Texas hospital network that employs about 25,000 workers, issued a mandate in April — and lost only about 150 workers. ChristianaCare, a non-profit hospital operator based in Delaware that employs more than 12,000 people, said it has seen about 150 employees depart since announcing its mandate in July. Novant Health, a North Carolina-based company that runs 15 hospitals and hundreds of physician practices, also issued a mandate in July, and at this point about 99 per cent of its 35,000 workers are vaccinated. The company fired about 175 employees who refused to get a shot.
In healthcare more than in most sectors of the economy, workers need to be vaccinated to protect patients as well as themselves. Laying off noncompliant workers is strong medicine. But more of it may be needed to establish a strong defence against Covid-19.