Those who work on the front line of the pandemic, including health professionals, police officers and firefighters, are the ones who are rejecting vaccines the most. You have to be American to understand why.
Beginning today, Nov. 1, New York City employees may be placed on unpaid leave if they do not show proof of vaccination for COVID-19.
The vaccination requirement varies among cities and states, but there is a federal vaccine mandate and the time is coming when thousands of firefighters, police officers, first responders, members of the military, pilots and others who refuse to be vaccinated will be laid off.
According to the federal government mandate, every company that has more than 100 employees must require a vaccination certificate from each employee or face the risk of heavy fines.
Business associations have appealed to the government to postpone this requirement until after the holidays, as they fear losing additional employees during a period that coincides with labor shortages in various sectors of the economy. There are more jobs in the United States and no one to fill them, one of the most unexpected effects of the pandemic.
From the Brazilian perspective, it is difficult to understand why so many Americans refuse the vaccine, whereas in Brazil, people are fighting to get the shot as they dread missing the deadline.
Distrusting everything that comes from the government, especially when it is mandatory, is part of the American mentality, and libertarians believe this distrust helped create the greatest world power in history by strengthening local communities and individual responsibility.
Even with an abundant supply of vaccines, something that the Trump administration planned and Joe Biden built on, the percentage of Americans who have received two doses of vaccine is only 58%, compared to 68% of Britons, 79% of Spaniards and 85% of the Portuguese.
In April, one in five Americans refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The level of refusal decreased after the mandate, but it still persists, especially, and perhaps surprisingly, among professionals who are at the forefront of the pandemic in risky professions where they are exposed to disease and infection.
Opposition to the vaccine is most entrenched among citizens who identify themselves with the right-wing, which includes most law enforcement officials. The politicization of the pandemic and all it entails – masks, confinement and vaccines – is even more extreme in the United States than in Brazil. In many regions, refusing the vaccine has become a way of telling Biden to beat it.
Since they deal directly with the public, often physically, police officers in the U.S. as a group are especially affected by COVID-19. More than 460 officers died from COVID-19 between 2020 and 2021 – four times more than those who were killed by firearms in the line of duty.
Although the numbers have changed, a survey conducted last December showed that 38% of respondents would not take the vaccine at all. Unions and police associations in major American cities have legally challenged the vaccine mandate, and states governed by Republicans plan to follow suit.
Los Angeles firefighters are suing the city because the mandate passed by city council requires everyone to get vaccinated within a certain period. Each of the 871 people who signed the lawsuit seek $2.5 million in damages, which would add up to a total of $2.1 billion in the municipality’s account. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight on a vaccine mandate,” a mandate he does not enforce.
In New York, hundreds of firefighters protested outside the residence of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Four went a little further by driving a fire engine to the office of a state senator and demanding to speak with him. They were later suspended.
The vaccination rate for New York City firefighters is 77%, the lowest among front-line workers.
The range of Americans who refuse to get the vaccine is vast, from those who support a natural lifestyle and are suspicious of vaccines in general to vegans and LGBT groups who oppose the mandatory nature of the vaccine.
Robert Kennedy Jr., son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is a well-known anti-vaccine advocate who was recently banned from YouTube as well as Instagram for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines. Kennedy Jr,, an environmental lawyer, has been one of the biggest supporters of the thesis that associates the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine with an increase in autism. The pandemic has placed him at the forefront of the movement against vaccines.
Kennedy Jr. is also a conspiracy theorist. He believes Sirhan Sirhan was not his father’s murderer, despite the huge number of people who witnessed the assassination in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. Kennedy even visited the assassin in prison, while his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, waited in the car. Hines plays Larry David’s wife in the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Strange world.
Refusing mandatory vaccine is also hurting the U.S. Armed Forces. Approximately 11,000 members of the Air Force have rejected the vaccine in out of conviction and are willing to sacrifice their careers and forfeit their right to pensions, medical care and other benefits.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an unvaccinated America is 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than if vaccinated, and 10 times more likely to be hospitalized.
But the “vaccine hesitants,” as they are called, remain suspicious of a new vaccine and a government that is enforcing it. Many feel, against all evidence, that they are at greater risk of permanent side effects from the vaccine than from COVID-19. They believe that the infection rate and hospitalization due to COVID-19 prove that the vaccine does not work.
Firing or dismissing those who refuse to take the vaccine sounds extreme to many who do not share these ideas, and if the punishment is too great among the ranks of respected institutions, like the U.S. Armed Forces, it can negatively impact public opinion.
What is worse: being cared for by unvaccinated personnel in an emergency or not getting any help all because there are no personnel? Americans will have the answer to this questions soon.