As coronavirus cases resurface across the country, many vaccinated Americans are losing patience with vaccine holdouts who they believe neglect a civic duty or cling to conspiracy theories and misinformation even as new patients arrive at emergency rooms and the nation renews mask recommendations.
The pandemic appeared to be leaving the country; Almost a month ago there was a feeling of celebration. Now many of the vaccinated fear for their unvaccinated children and fear that they themselves are at risk for breakthrough infections. Rising case numbers are turning plans to reopen schools and workplaces on their head and threaten another wave of infections that could overwhelm hospitals in many communities.
“It’s like the sun came up in the morning and everyone’s arguing about it,” said Jim Taylor, 66, a retired civil servant in Baton Rouge, LA, a state where fewer than half of adults are fully vaccinated.
“The virus is here and killing people, and we have a proven way to stop it – and we’re not going to. That is rude.”
The rising sentiment adds support for further coercive measures. Scientists, business leaders, and government officials are demanding vaccine mandates – if not from the federal government, then from local jurisdictions, schools, employers, and corporations.
“I’ve gotten angrier over time,” said Doug Robertson, 39, a teacher who lives outside of Portland, Oregon and has three children who are too young to be vaccinated, including a toddler with serious health.
“Now there’s a vaccine and a light at the end of the tunnel and some people choose not to go to it,” he said. “You are making it darker for my family and others like mine by making this decision.”
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all city workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or subjected to weekly tests until schools reopen in mid-September. Officials in California followed hours later with a similar mandate that covered all government employees and health care workers.
The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday called for 115,000 local health care workers to be vaccinated over the next two months, becoming the first federal agency to mandate a mandate. Nearly 60 major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, called for mandatory vaccination of all health care workers on Monday.
“It is time to blame the unvaccinated people, not the normal people,” a frustrated Governor Kay Ivey, Republican of Alabama, told reporters last week. “It’s the unvaccinated people who fail us.”
There is no doubt that the United States has reached a turning point. According to a New York Times database, 57 percent of Americans 12 and older are fully vaccinated. Eligible Americans receive an average of 537,000 doses per day, down 84 percent from the high of 3.38 million in early April.
Infections are increasing as a result of delayed vaccinations and abolished restrictions. On Sunday, the country recorded 52,000 new cases a day, an average of 170 percent more than the previous two weeks. Hospital stays and death rates are also increasing, though not as rapidly.
Communities from San Francisco to Austin, Texas recommend that people who have been vaccinated wear masks again in public indoor spaces. Citing the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, Los Angeles and St. Louis, Missouri counties have mandated indoor masking.
For many Americans who were vaccinated months ago, the future looks bleak. Frustration strains relationships even within close-knit families.
Josh Perldeiner, 36, a Connecticut public attorney who has a 2-year-old son, was fully vaccinated in mid-May. But a close relative who visits frequently has refused to get the injections, even though he and other family members have urged them to do so.
She recently tested positive for the virus after traveling to Florida, where hospitals are filling up with Covid-19 patients. Now Mr. Perldeiner is concerned that his son, too young to have a vaccine, might be exposed.
“It goes way beyond just putting us in danger,” he said. “People with privileges are opposed to the vaccine, and it affects our economy and continues the cycle.” As the infections rise, he added, “I feel like we’re on the same precipice as we were a year ago, where people don’t care if more people die.”
Hospitals have become a particular focus. Vaccination remains voluntary in most facilities and is not required for nursing staff in most hospitals and nursing homes. Many large hospital chains are just beginning to require their employees to be vaccinated.
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Despite being fully vaccinated, Aimee McLean, a nurse case manager at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, is concerned that she will contract the virus in a patient and accidentally pass it on to her father, who has a severe chronic condition Suffers from lung disease. Less than half of Utah’s population is fully vaccinated.
“The longer we get near that number, the more it feels like there is a decent percentage of the population that honestly doesn’t care about us as healthcare workers,” said Ms. McLean, 46.
She suggested that health insurers link hospital bills to vaccination. “If you choose not to be part of the solution, you should be responsible for the consequences,” she said.
Many schools and universities will resume classroom teaching as early as next month. With the increase in the number of infections, the tensions between vaccinated and unvaccinated people have also risen in these settings.
Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reopen K-12 schools are tied to community virus transmission rates. In communities where vaccination is delayed, these rates are rising and vaccinated parents are again concerned about school outbreaks. The vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12 years of age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children wear masks in class when schools reopen. School districts from Chicago to Washington began enacting mandates on Friday.
Universities, on the other hand, can often require students and staff to be vaccinated. But many don’t have what frustrates the vaccinated.
“If we respect the rights and freedoms of the unvaccinated, what happens to the rights and freedoms of the vaccinated?” Said Elif Akcali, 49, who teaches engineering at the University of Florida at Gainesville. The university doesn’t require students to be vaccinated, and as rates rise in Florida, it worries about exposure to the virus.
Some even wonder how much sympathy they should have for fellow citizens who are not acting in their own interest. “I feel like if you decide not to have a vaccination and now you get sick, it’s kind of bad,” said Lia Hockett, 21, the manager of Thunderbolt Spiritual Books in Santa Monica, California.
Understand the state of vaccine mandates in the United States
As the virus spreads again, some vaccinated people believe the federal government should start using sticks instead of carrots, like lottery tickets.
Carol Meyer, 65, of Ulster County, NY, suggested withholding incentive payments or tax credits from vaccine objectors. “I have a feeling that in this country we have a social contract with our neighbors, and people who can get vaccinated and choose not to get vaccinated are breaking it,” Ms. Meyer said.
Bill Alsstrom, 74, a retired innkeeper in Acton, Massachusetts, said he would not support measures that would directly affect individual families and children, but asked if states that do not meet vaccination goals are withholding federal government funding should be.
Perhaps the federal government should require employees and contractors to be vaccinated, he thought. Why shouldn’t federal funding be withheld from states that don’t meet vaccination goals?
Although often viewed as a conservative phenomenon, hesitant and refused vaccination occurs across the United States across the political and cultural spectrum for a variety of reasons. No argument can address all of these concerns, and rethinking is often a slow, individual process.
Pastor Shon Neyland, who regularly pleads with members of his Portland, Oregon church to get vaccinated against Covid-19, estimates that only about half of the members of the Highland Christian Center church have been injected. There was tension in the community over vaccination.
“It’s disappointing because I’ve been trying to show them that their lives are in danger and that this is a serious threat to humanity,” he said.
Shareese Harris, 26, who works in the Grace Cathedral International office in Uniondale, NY, has not been vaccinated and is “taking my time” with it. She fears that the vaccines may have long-term side effects and that they have been brought to market.
“I shouldn’t be convicted or forced to make a decision,” said Ms. Harris. “Society will just have to wait for us.”
Growing resentment among vaccinated people may well lead the public to support stronger coercive measures, including mandates, but experts warn that punitive action and social ostracism can backfire and end dialogue and public relations.
Elected officials in several communities in Los Angeles County, for example, are already refusing to enforce the county’s new mask mandate.
“Anything that limits the opportunity for honest dialogue and persuasion is not a good thing,” said Stephen Thomas, professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. “We are already in isolated, isolated information systems where people are in their own echo chambers.”
Gentle persuasion and persistent urging convinced Dorrett Denton, a 62-year-old home nurse in Queens, to get vaccinated in February. Her employer repeatedly urged Ms. Denton to get vaccinated, but in the end it was her doctor who persuaded her.
“She says to me: ‘You have been coming to me since 1999. How many times have I operated on you and your life was in my hands? You trust me with your life, don’t you? ”Ms. Denton recalled.
“I said, ‘Yes, Doctor.’ She said, ‘Well, trust me on this.’ “
Giulia Heyward contributed the coverage from Miami, Sophie Kasakove from New York and Livia Albeck-Ripka from Los Angeles.