What government hasn’t been able to do, employers can accomplish: Get enough Americans vaccinated so that we can stop the latest coronavirus surge in its tracks.
In recent days, it’s as if floodgates have opened.
Large private employers — Apple, Google, Walmart and Disney — all have announced vaccine mandates for employees. Across the country, hospitals, senior care centers and health care providers are requiring proof of vaccinations for workers.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is walking a narrow line. She’s not mandating vaccinations for state employees, but she is making it inconvenient for people who refuse them. Good.
Starting Monday, state employees either must have shown proof of vaccination, be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks or face loss discipline including potentially losing their jobs.
The University of New Mexico this week reversed course from its ridiculous “aspirational” goal of 100 percent vaccinations and will require staff, faculty and students to prove they have been vaccinated. Other state universities should follow suit.
Locally, the Lensic Performing Arts Center will require all people attending events — staff, volunteers, crew, patrons — to provide proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to gain admittance.
President Joe Biden also plans to require federal workers to prove vaccination status or be tested regularly with face-masking and distance requirements.
As with New Mexico’s rule for state workers, this is not a mandate. It’s a choice. Individuals who do not want to be vaccinated instead can be tested. The United States can no longer afford to lag in vaccinations, especially after its initial successes.
About half the country is fully vaccinated, short of the 70 percent to 80 percent vaccination rate needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 — and stop the mutations of the coronavirus. The delta variant is more contagious. The next variant could be deadlier.
Worse, the vaccine rate is inequitable, depending on the region. The South trails in vaccinations, which is why hospitals there are filling up as cases skyrocket.
The Northeast, on the other hand, is at 70 percent to 80 percent of the population vaccinated. That’s where the entire nation needs to be.
The Department of Health reports 65 percent of New Mexicans have completed vaccinations. Once again, some parts of the state have fallen behind.
Having the local Walmart in Clovis or Roswell require vaccinations for employees could help push individuals to get their shots. Same with state workers — not all are in Santa Fe or Albuquerque.
Employee mandates are legal, too, although experts say it is unclear whether a president could issue a federal vaccination mandate.
That’s why employers must step up. They can offer time off for people who get shots, conduct vaccination clinics on-site to make shots convenient and educate those who are vaccine hesitant. Vaccinations can happen quickly.
In just a few months, Canada went from a place where few people had been vaccinated to 70 percent of people with at least one dose and more than 50 percent of people fully vaccinated. Its numbers are now better than the U.S., and Canada started far behind.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. has failed to get ahead of the virus. For a few weeks this spring and summer, it appeared that we could put the pandemic away.
Employers can change the equation. And they must.