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Let’s stop coddling the willfully unvaccinated

The vaccinated should take this next step toward protecting ourselves and our loved ones, by demanding vaccination for every gathering we attend. During this season, safety begins at home.

A dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago.
A dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago.
Nam Y. Huh,/AP Photos

As she planned a winter wedding shower for her niece, my friend wanted to restrict attendance to those who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. After all, there would be food, drink, and laughter in an enclosed space where nobody would be expected to continually wear masks or observe social distancing. Digging into the guest list, she learned there were a few who would not be vaccinated.

Would it be ok, the bride asked, to allow a negative test within 72 hours to accommodate those who are important to the family?

And so goes the debate in households across the country this holiday season, and likely to continue through 2022. With the Omicron variant now surging on top of Delta and perhaps more variants to come, this debate can and must end now.

It’s time to stop coddling the anti-vaxxers. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is on the right track with her vaccination mandate for patrons of restaurants, gyms and other places. But there’s more to be done, by the state and by President Biden.

To be clear: I’m talking only about those who can get the vaccine but refuse to do so. I know transplant patients and others can’t be vaccinated. They’re still isolating in their homes and would welcome anything the rest of us can do to push the stubbornly unvaccinated into protecting themselves and those around them.

Why are we allowing unvaccinated folks to set the standard for event attendance? Allowing a negative test within 72 hours to suffice is a courtesy to anti-vaxxers and an affront (and threat) to the vaccinated.

Testing is not enough

Rapid tests aren’t fully reliable and, certainly, less reliable if taken 72 hours ago vs. on the day of a gathering. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, says “you can feel confident” with results from such tests if they are taken within 24 hours of a gathering, although AP News reports one popular test misses around 15 out of 100 infections — “false negatives” — and gives a false positive result in about 1 in 100 people who aren’t infected.

As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many other experts, “you may test negative if the sample was collected early in your infection and test positive later during this illness. You could also be exposed to COVID-19 after the test and get infected then. Even if you test negative, you still should take steps to protect yourself and others.”

We can’t expect those who scoff at the COVID-19 threat, to the point of refusing to vaccinate, to take self-testing seriously. Those who entertain themselves on social media and elsewhere by “owning the libs” with their refusal to vaccinate have no reason to honestly report their test results or vaccination status, much less follow the CDC instructions for ensuring they behave responsibly once exposed. The media is full of such examples, from politicians, sports stars, and other conservative role models.

And yet we, the vaccinated, go out of our way to include those who pose a threat to us and others. We skip live music, football games, and other activities because we aren’t comfortable with anything less than proof of vaccination at the door. While there is plenty of hand-wringing over the economic impact of government-mandated shut-downs, where is the outrage over the way the unvaxxed are limiting economic impact at events like these every day? Several places in the European Union require vaccinations to enter restaurants, theaters, and other venues and now Chicago and New York City have followed suit. The U.S. can and should make this a national mandate.

From the perspective of the virus, we operate today as two societies. A recent report from the Washington State Department of Health echoes the findings of many others: the unvaccinated in every age group are at least five times more likely to become infected, as much as 23 times more likely to be hospitalized and, for those 65 and older, 13 times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared with fully vaccinated 65+ year-olds

So I ask: why do we welcome this risk into our homes for the holidays (or for wedding showers)? Why do we accept this risk in other venues, including some workplaces?

It’s time for the vaccinated to take this next step toward protecting ourselves and our loved ones, demanding vaccine requirements for every gathering we attend. This season, safety truly begins at home.

Marj Halperin is a communications consultant to nonprofits and government agencies. Her political commentary has been featured on WGN TV, CTV Canada, and WCPT radio.

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