The other day, King County politicians heard an update on how the controversial practice of requiring COVID-19 vaccines has affected the county cops.
It turns out that since the mandate last fall, 55 employees at the Sheriff’s Office, 47 of whom were commissioned officers, have either retired or been fired because they wouldn’t get the coronavirus shots. That’s out of a force of 1,200 — so about 4.5%.
One council member, Reagan Dunn, argued that the need for a vaccine mandate, if it ever existed, has passed.
“After a time, what we’ve observed is that the vaccination — though important for personal protection — is not the silver bullet some predicted it would be for stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Dunn said. “… We should not be holding their livelihoods hostage, especially when the community benefit is nebulous at best.”
This is a widespread sentiment right now — that the vaccines aren’t doing much good anymore. There are plenty of anecdotes to back it up, in stories such as the cruise that docked in Seattle last week with a hundred-plus cases on board a ship where everybody was supposed to be vaccinated.
But is it true that the community benefit has eroded away?
Every week the state puts out a report on how the state’s 5 million people over age 12 who have been vaccinated are faring relative to the 1 million who remain unvaxxed. Based on these reports over time, there’s no question the virus has been wearing down the vaccine’s defenses.
Last summer, for example, disease rates were more than 10 times higher in the unvaccinated population. By late fall, they were about four times higher.
Today, in the latest report, dated May 11, the disease rates for the past month are 1.9 times higher among the unvaccinated.
So the vaccine has been losing ground. Still, the COVID rate among the unvaxxed is almost double. The hospitalization rate is four times higher, and the death rate, among the more vulnerable 65-and-older group, is three times higher.
Imagine if back at the pandemic’s beginning they had said there’s a shot that could cut the disease rate almost in half, and reduce death by two-thirds. Wouldn’t that have been something?
That’s the vaccine’s performance today, at least in our state, according to Department of Health data. Yet because the vaccines aren’t offering total protection, or aren’t as robust as a year ago, they’re regarded as lame.
I agree with Dunn that mandating shots is tricky, especially with a virus that’s a moving target. I opposed our state’s hard mandate, arguing we should have a testing option as well. I thought at the time it might give workers some room to come around to the right decision for public health.
But it turns out in states where they tried a softer mandate, firefighters, troopers and others still quit or got fired, just as they did here. There were still camps of resistance, even to taking tests, just as there have been to masks.
At the time, the vaccines were blunting disease rates by fourfold, and yet more than 2,000 Americans were dying every day from the contagion.
Public safety workers have jobs that require them to interact with vulnerable people, including in courthouses and medical facilities where social distancing wasn’t always possible. Of all people, they should have been modeling what to do for everybody else. Wear a mask, get two shots — this was about the least anyone could be asked to do to stave off a national crisis. For these few, though, it was asking too much.
So no, though I was against the mandate, I don’t think they should get their jobs back. The community benefit of vaccines isn’t nebulous even now, and it definitely wasn’t back then.
Last fall I wrote about how people not getting vaccinated meant the medical system in Washington had borne up to an estimated $850 million in unnecessary hospitalization costs. COVID hospitalizations have more than doubled since then — with three-fourths of them unvaccinated (who, again, make up only a sixth of the state’s population). So now we’re up to more than $2.2 billion in hospital costs that could have been prevented with the jab.
I’m revisiting all this now because the COVID reality is only going to get murkier, as vaccine immunity wanes and the virus morphs. For example, the pandemic is supposedly over, and yet, right now, King County is having its second biggest outbreak of the entire two-year period, at more than 1,000 new cases per day.
The good news is, hospitalizations remain under control, at about 11 new ones per day (past surges have peaked at 50 or 60 per day). So we have the vaccine simultaneously not staving off infection as well as it once did, yet also still working medical wonders.
At some point, vaccine mandates should and will be lifted. But let’s not sanitize history when it happens. The cost of America’s epic vaccine resistance, especially at the crucial moment last summer and fall, is nothing less than that hundreds of thousands of people are dead who needn’t be.