Editorial: Vaccines needed for police, other county employees

The Island Now

In his first interview as the presumptive Nassau County executive-elect, Bruce Blakeman said he would not impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates on police and other county workers after he is inaugurated.

“I’m vaccinated,” Blakeman said. “That’s a choice I made. I am not for mandatory vaccinations of county employees. I think it’s a mistake. I think basically people have to make their own health care decisions.”

This actually does not represent a change in policy from Laura Curran over whom Blakeman has claimed victory.

Curran said during the election campaign that she preferred persuasion over mandates, citing the 95 percent of Nassau adults who had received at least one shot – the highest rate in the state.

Given the objections of many voters to mandates for vaccines and even masks, thanks to a torrent of disinformation, this may be good politics.

But it is very bad policy that undermines public health efforts in ways that will have consequences now and for years to come.

COVID tests statewide show a rising rate of infection and experts fear another holiday season surge. Test results documented 341 new cases in Nassau just last Thursday.

“Medical experts say the numbers are going up because many people remain unvaccinated, the cooler weather is pushing people indoors and many people are not wearing masks in crowded indoor locations,” Newsday reported.

The numbers regularly cited by Curran also overstated the level of protection in Nassau County by counting only adults.

Long Island this week hit an overall vaccination rate of only 70 percent with many of the remaining unvaccinated people saying they won’t take shots. And many who have been vaccinated have been slow to get booster shots needed to maintain a high level of protection.

According to a Newsday analysis, Long Island residents will not hit the 90 percent level needed to achieve herd immunity and free us from most precautions, including masks, until next August.

Nationally, only one in three parents say they will give shots to their kids – even though the FDA says they are safe and effective.

In the absence of vaccines, one Suffolk County school has seen an outbreak of more than 40 cases, prompting school officials to take extra precautions.
The failure to vaccinate children attending school is, to put it charitably, madness.

As we have already pointed out, to attend day care or pre-K in New York a child must be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, rubella, polio and chickenpox.

To attend middle school and high school a child must also be vaccinated for whooping cough again and meningitis.

What makes COVID-19, which has already claimed the lives of more than 750,000 Americans, different? Certainly not science.

Safe and effective vaccines are available. What is preventing an end to the suffering is the refusal of people to listen to health professionals and get vaccinated. This poses a threat now and in the future.

Consider this: Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, has said health professionals  expect new and more frequent viruses in the future as the Earth’s population grows and people live closer to animals.

All this while some are already challenging the mandates for the other childhood diseases.

It is true that children are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID, but they are not immune from the disease and its effects both short-term and long-term. Not to mention the threat of children spreading the diseases to other children and having them bring it home to siblings, parents, grandparents and other relatives.

We agree that masks are uncomfortable, but the only safe way to eliminate them is for us to reach herd immunity with a 90 percent vaccination rate.

Parents arguing for in-person learning, no masks and no vaccines are wishing for the tooth fairy while endangering lives.

Police and other first responders may be an even greater threat.

Unlike hospital workers in New York state, police and other first responders are not required to be vaccinated outside of New York City even though they work in close quarters and often come in close contact with the public.

Do we really want unvaccinated police and other first responders to enter someone’s home who may be in medical distress?

Police are supposed to protect and serve, not infect and ignore health protocols. Yet their vaccination rates have significantly trailed most other groups’ while their unions in many places have opposed mandates.

The opposition of the unions is especially odd given the threat posed by COVID-19 to police. Five times as many police officers have died from COVID-19 as from gunfire since the start of the pandemic, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Imagine what police unions would be saying if 245 law enforcement agents had died from gunfire during that period?

We rightly honor police for their willingness to face the threat of gunfire, but why won’t they take a vaccine shot that could save their lives, the lives and health of their families, their co-workers and the people they serve?

The answer is mandates. Why? Because they work.

Firefighter vaccination rates were 58 percent before New York City’s deadline went into effect. The rate for the Bravest is now 70 percent. For the NYPD, it was 70 percent; now it is 86 percent.

Increases of that magnitude or far greater have been seen when mandates were imposed for people working in hospitals, nursing homes, government and private businesses.

Curran said we should rely on educating people and perhaps residents’ sense of common good to get everyone vaccinated. Sadly, education has its limits in the face of a political movement that promotes distrust of science.

Blakeman and many others argue that people need to make their own health care decisions as a matter of personal freedom. In most cases of personal freedom, we agree with him. But not when it affects other people’s health.

You are allowed to drink alcohol but not drive drunk. You can smoke cigarettes outside but not inside a public space like a restaurant. That’s a matter of public health – something that is the responsibility of a county executive.

Not requiring county employees to be vaccinated undermines county public health professionals, hurts the economy and endangers the lives of residents.

That’s a prescription for disaster.

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The Island Now

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