Show an ad over header. AMP

Why we won't see sweeping mandates for coronavirus vaccines

Schools, employers and other big institutions will face enormously difficult decisions as they decide whether to mandate coronavirus vaccinations.

The big picture: The U.S. isn’t likely to see sweeping, government-ordered vaccine mandates, but there could be one-off requirements for specific groups of people. And each will have to balance the benefits against the risk of a backlash that could ultimately prolong the pandemic.

Why it matters: At least 75% of the country probably needs to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, and widespread skepticism about the vaccine means there’s a chance we won’t get there.

  • “I don't think the pathway to a fully vaccinated public is through mandatory vaccinations,” Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo said. “I think that would actually backfire.”

Where it stands: The early vaccine rollout has sparked new speculation about some kind of system of “immunity passports” — proving you’ve been vaccinated in order to send your kids to school, go back to work or get on a plane. But that's probably not how it will work, at least in the short term.

  • For starters, experts generally agree that vaccines won’t be mandatory in almost any setting until they receive full FDA approval, which won’t happen until sometime next year.
  • Limited supplies also make mandates untenable: You can’t force someone to get a shot that’s not available to them.

More broadly, many of the institutions that could require proof of vaccination simply may not want to.

  • Businesses that are serving customers today — airlines flying full flights, for example — aren’t likely to start setting up new restrictions, accepting less risk than they’re accepting now.
  • Employers could require their workers to get vaccinated. But that would be highly controversial, and employees can seek exemptions on religious grounds. For now, more big companies are opting to encourage or facilitate voluntary vaccinations.

“There may be situations where proof of vaccination lets you obviate certain other measures” — like long quarantines or frequent testing — “but I am skeptical they would be mandated or should be mandated,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

Yes, but: There are some exceptions to this rule — institutions, most of them private, that may find mandates more appealing.

  • Health care facilities have long required their workers to get other vaccines, including flu shots. Experts agree they’re likely to do so in this case, too, and that they should.
  • Nursing homes might also want to explore mandatory vaccinations, said Ashish Jha, the dean of public health at Brown University.
  • And universities could begin requiring proof of vaccination for students who want to live on campus when classes begin in the fall, Jha said.

The stakes: Each university or nursing home or hospital system that imposes a vaccine mandate is only affecting a small group of similarly situated people. But eventually those small numbers could add up to a significant slice of the country.

  • And the more vaccine mandates are perceived as a major force in American life, some experts fear, the more controversial those policies will become — and by extension, the same will happen to the vaccines themselves.

Public schools — the most familiar source of vaccine mandates, and the biggest battleground for debates over those policies — probably won’t require coronavirus vaccinations any time soon.

  • Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines are authorized for use in children, and they haven’t been tested in children yet.
  • Children are also at low risk for serious illness, making them one of the lowest priorities as long as supplies remain limited.
  • But this could all be revisited by the time the next school year starts in August or September, when more studies will be completed, supplied will likely be ample and vaccines likely will have full FDA approval.

One big question: We still don’t know whether the initial COVID-19 vaccines simply prevent you from getting sick, or actually stop the virus from spreading.

  • If they don’t stop transmission, the case for requiring them is weaker — especially for groups, like children, who are at a low risk of serious infection to begin with, Nuzzo said.

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

Why it matters: Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice for “incitement of insurrection" after a violent pro-Trump mob breached the U.S. Capitol, resulting in five deaths.

Keep reading... Show less

CDC shifts COVID vaccine guidance, expanding minimum interval between doses for exceptional cases

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

Keep reading... Show less

Texas attorney general sues Biden administration over deportation freeze

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration in federal district court over its 100-day freeze on deporting unauthorized immigrants, and asking for a temporary restraining order.

Between the lines: The freeze went into effect Friday, temporarily halting most immigration enforcement in the U.S. In the lawsuit, Paxton claims the move "violates the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration and administrative law, and a contractual agreement between Texas" and the Department of Homeland Security.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden administration unveils 3-pronged plan to combat domestic extremism

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced at a briefing on Friday that the Biden administration will roll out a three-pronged, interagency plan to assess and combat the thread by domestic violence extremism.

Why it matters: The federal government's approach to domestic extremism has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. In his inaugural address, Biden repudiated political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism, vowing to defeat them.

Keep reading... Show less

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

Keep reading... Show less

House will transmit article of impeachment to Senate on Monday, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the House will deliver the article of impeachment against former President Trump for "incitement of insurrection" on Monday.

Why it matters: The Senate is constitutionally required to begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is transmitted. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been pushing for the trial to begin in mid-February, arguing that it will force the Senate to delay other important business.

This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Private equity bets on delayed tax reform in Biden administration

In normal times, private equity would be nervous about Democratic Party control of both the White House and Congress. But in pandemic-consumed 2021, the industry seems sanguine.

Driving the news: Industry executives and lobbyists paid very close attention to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen's confirmation hearings this week, and came away convinced that tax reform isn't on the near-term agenda.

Keep reading... Show less

New Energy Department roles look to animate Biden's campaign themes

The burst of Biden administration staffing picks announced yesterday revealed that the Energy Department (DOE) has newly created roles that reflect what President Biden called campaign priorities.

Driving the news: One new position is "director of energy jobs," which is being filled by Jennifer Jean Kropke. She was previously the first director of workforce and environmental engagement with Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories