As U.S. Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations soar—largely driven by the Delta variant and people's refusal to vaccinate—a leading U.S. health official on Sunday called for the implementation of more vaccine mandates to better combat the pandemic's surging fourth wave.
"For me, as a non-political person, as a physician, as a scientist, the compelling case for vaccines for everybody is right there in front of you."
—NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins
Asked if it was time to impose more vaccine mandates such as those implemented by many businesses, universities, and other institutions, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins told ABC's "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos that the government "ought to use every public health tool that we can when people are dying."
Collins acknowledged that vaccine mandates are "obviously a hot topic," but that "for me, as a non-political person, as a physician, as a scientist, the compelling case for vaccines for everybody is right there in front of you. Just look at the data."
"And certainly, I celebrate when I see businesses deciding that they're going to mandate that for their employees" Collins continued. "Death rates are starting up again... We ought to be thinking of every possible intervention."
The United States is currently experiencing over 120,000 new confirmed Covid-19 cases per day, a level unseen since last winter's surge. The pandemic's fourth wave is fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant and people's refusal to vaccinate, mostly in more conservative parts of the country.
Hospitalizations and deaths are also on the rise, with 45,580 people admitted to U.S. hospitals between August 1 and August 5, and more than 500 nationwide daily deaths reported each day since August 3, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says that 614,291 people have died in the United States since the start of the pandemic.
Nationwide, only about half of eligible people have been fully vaccinated. Seven states with among the country's lowest vaccination rates—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas—last week accounted for nearly half of all nationwide cases and hospitalizations.
Data published Friday by the CDC revealed that unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with the coronavirus than those who have been inoculated against it. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN earlier this week that "we could be up to several hundred thousand cases a day, similar to our surge in early January," if more people don't get vaccinated.
Collins implored Americans to transcend politics in service of saving lives.
"Why is it that a mandate about a vaccine or wearing a mask suddenly becomes a statement of your political party? We never should have let that happen," Collins said. "Come on, America—we're incredibly polarized about politics, we don't really need to be polarized about a virus that's killing people. We ought to be doing everything we can to save lives."
"Come on, America—we're incredibly polarized about politics, we don't really need to be polarized about a virus that's killing people. We ought to be doing everything we can to save lives."
However, while some Republican governors have pleaded with their constituents to get vaccinated and wear masks, others have taken a more belligerent stance.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden noted that "Florida and Texas account for one third of all new Covid-19 cases in the entire country," while asking governors to "please help, and if you aren't going to help, please get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis responded by blaming Biden and immigrants for his state's coronavirus infection surge, which is responsible for 20% of new U.S. cases.
"Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on Covid while he lets Covid-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands," DeSantis said in an August 4 fundraising email. "No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of Covid in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies."
At least eight states—Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah—have also banned mask mandates in schools. While DeSantis recently issued an executive order (pdf) threatening to withhold state funding to school districts that implement mask mandates, some districts are pushing ahead with plans to retain or enact such requirements.
"We know that kids under 12 are likely to get infected and if we don't have masks in schools, this virus will spread more widely," Collins said on "This Week," adding that "it will probably result in outbreaks in schools and kids will have to go back to remote learning, which is the one thing we really want to prevent."
On Sunday, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, came out in support of vaccine mandates for teachers.
Meanwhile, harrowing reports of hospitalized and dying Covid-19 patients expressing regrets about not getting vaccinated and imploring others to not make the same fatal mistake have proliferated this week.
Dick Farrel—a right-wing TV and radio host who refused to get vaccinated and called U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci a "power-tripping lying freak"—died Wednesday in Florida. Friends told local media Farrel told them he wished he'd been vaccinated, and that his death had inspired them to get the shots.
"I was one of one the people like him who didn't trust the vaccine. I trusted my immune system," friend Amy Leigh Hair told WPTV. "I just became more afraid of getting Covid-19 than I was of any possible side effects of the vaccine. I'm glad I got vaccinated."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Brett Wilkins.