Forget about the mule-headed Wazzu football coach who won’t explain why he won’t take the vaccine.
Likewise, set aside the nurse here or there who is threatening to quit. Don’t consume yourself with the Washington State Patrol dispatcher who defiantly said “I’m choosing to stand my ground against tyranny.” And even forget about the 600 or so state employees who have sued Gov. Jay Inslee over his mandate to get the shots.
Don’t get me wrong: These are all good and legitimate stories, about people drumming to their own beats. Their detractors are right to slam these folks for being oblivious to the public health implications of their obstinance (especially the health workers, I mean, come on, you work in a hospital and still you won’t get the jab?). While their defenders see them, correctly I suppose, as refusing to heel to the man.
But what are they really? They are beside the point.
They are the headline-grabbing exceptions that obscure the story. Which is that vaccine mandates work. In fact these vaccine mandates have already worked extremely well, even though the deadlines for most of them are weeks away.
Some State Patrol officers, prison workers, firefighters and others don’t want to get vaxxed, and so they have sued Inslee over his mandate. On Monday their attorney likened this to being shot with an arrow.
“Your honor, it’s not where the bow is drawn, but it is where the arrow strikes,” attorney Nathan Arnold said. “Many of these arrows are landing specifically in Walla Walla County. They are striking its nurses, its correctional officers … “
It’s actually COVID-19 that has struck and dropped four Washington state correctional officers so far — one-third of the correctional officers killed in the line of duty in the state’s history, according to the state DOC. So the vaccine is maybe less like an arrow and more like a shield? This does kind of tank the lawyer’s metaphor, though.
In any case, this lawsuit and its plaintiffs are in the news virtually every day. Ditto unvaccinated WSU football coach Nick Rolovich, I guess because he’s the highest-paid state employee, and football is bigger than God.
But the bigger pandemic story is that in just a two-week period in September, 12,000 state employees who aren’t suing or mavericking (or whatever Rolovich can be said to be doing) went and got vaxxed. That’s about 20% of the state workforce covered by the mandate.
So far, the state reports, 68% of state employees are vaccinated, up from 49% in early September. Two weeks from now, as the deadline closes in, I bet it will top 80%, even 90%.
The same trend is happening with most every workplace vax mandate. There’s loud resistance, sometimes chanting in the streets. Followed by a very quiet getting with the program.
Example: PeaceHealth hospitals were among the first to require the shots for their employees, in early August. This touched off protests in Bellingham, with claims that resistance inside the hospitals was fierce and spreading.
What ended up happening? Eighteen employees quit rather than get the shots — out of more than 3,200 in PeaceHealth’s Whatcom County system, according to a follow-up story in the excellent The Northern Light weekly newspaper.
The headline could have been: “99.5% of local health workers don’t quit over vaccine mandate.”
Same thing is happening nationally. There was this screamer headline in Tuesday’s Washington Post: “N.C. hospital system fires about 175 workers in one of the largest-ever mass terminations due to a vaccine mandate.” Mass termination!
Except this hospital group has 35,000 employees. So, again, not coincidentally, the story of mass termination is that “99.5% didn’t quit.”
A friend used to demand to know why The Seattle Times never reports that every plane landed safely at Sea-Tac yesterday. His dig was that the media is a lowly beast, fed by the crashes, the spectacles, the Roloviches of the world.
But in the case of the pandemic, the spectacles don’t actually matter much. Same with, say, King County Executive Dow Constantine being photographed not wearing a mask last week at a fundraiser. Whoops! It’s hypocritical and sets a poor example, sure, which is probably why he hastily deleted the photo. But it also isn’t necessary in virus science for 100% of the population to either get vaxxed or always wear a mask.
The infectious disease specialists told us this right at the beginning, back in 2020 — that virus control isn’t about absolute purity, it’s about probabilities. People should do what they can to blunt the overall spread, but not everybody can or will do everything right all the time. It’s a society-wide numbers game.
And in that sense, the vaccine mandates are already working. If getting more people vaxxed beats back yet another pandemic wave this winter, then nobody will remember that a football coach went briefly rogue, or some State Patrol dispatcher claimed to be standing up to tyranny. The vast majority of their co-workers, far less showily, will have gone off and done the shielding work for them.
Like I said up top, might as well get a jump on it and start forgetting about these outliers now.