My wife works for one of the largest printers in the country. From August through October last year, nine of her co-workers died of COVID-19. All were shop-floor personnel who did not have the luxury of working from home. One was just 28 years old. None were vaccinated, despite ample monetary incentives to do so. Alarmed, the CEO held a companywide meeting via Zoom, begging employees to get vaccinated.
What a shame. How did we get here? Through Dec. 10, 2021, 60 percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. To put that in perspective, 80 countries have better vaccination rates than the U.S., among them Morocco, Brazil, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Seriously? Cambodia ranks 170th in the world in per capita GDP and 116th in literacy rate. Surely we can do better.
Nevertheless, it seems clear now that most of the 40 percent of Americans who aren’t vaccinated will simply not get the shot. Why? COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The vaccines met the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality.
More than 471 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the U.S. from Dec. 14, 2020, through Dec. 6, 2021. Results from safety monitoring efforts are reassuring. Some people have no side effects. Others have reported only mild, short-term side effects, such as swelling, redness, and pain at injection site; fever; headache; tiredness; muscle pain; chills; and nausea.
For the record: The vaccines do not contain microchips. They do not change or interact with your DNA. They cannot make you sick with COVID-19. They do not affect fertility in men or women. They do not create variants of the coronavirus. Quite the opposite, the vaccines help prevent new variants from emerging.
The vaccines are effective at protecting people from COVID-19 and will help keep adults and children from getting seriously sick. They also reduce the risk of people spreading the virus. Yes, people can sometimes get COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. However, this only happens in a small proportion of people, even with the delta variant. When these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild.
Lest readers think I’m straying too far afield here, vaccination policy is very much a manufacturing issue. In November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. By Jan. 4, 2022, these companies must ensure either that their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or that they test negative for the coronavirus at least once a week. Companies that do not comply will face financial penalties.
Under the rule, employers must pay workers for the time it takes to get vaccinated and provide sick leave for workers to recover from any side effects. However, employers do not have to pay for or provide testing to workers who decline the vaccine.
The rule, which would affect more than 84 million workers, prompted immediate legal challenges from several states, as well as from religious and business groups, who argue it is unconstitutional. And, shortly after the rule was announced, a federal appeals court issued an emergency stay, pending litigation. A month later, on Dec. 8, the U.S. Senate voted narrowly to prevent the government from imposing a vaccine and testing mandate. (The House is unlikely to take up the measure.)
For its part, the National Association of Manufacturers has strongly supported vaccines as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, though it doesn’t explicitly endorse a mandate. “Manufacturers continue to be committed to promoting vaccination and keeping our teams, customers and communities safe and healthy,” said NAM president and CEO Jay Timmons in a statement following the OSHA’s release of the rule. “Federal vaccine requirements should be flexible enough to ensure we can achieve those goals, and we appreciate OSHA taking many of our inputs into consideration. …We will continue to share manufacturers’ perspectives and experiences with the administration to make sure our members aren’t faced with undue cost burdens and other potential disruptions. And, as we have been doing throughout the pandemic, [we] will continue providing manufacturers with the tools needed to communicate effectively about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Meanwhile, assemblers are forging ahead with their own policies. Ford Motor Co. is requiring employees who partake in international business travel to be vaccinated. It is also “strongly encouraging all team members who are medically able to be vaccinated.”
In a statement following the OSHA announcement, the United Auto Workers said this: “The UAW continues to strongly encourage all members to get vaccinated, but understands that in some cases health related and religious related issues do not make that possible. We will review our over 700 employer contracts and see how this rule impacts the current protocols in place at different worksites as well as any impacts on terms of our existing contracts.”
General Electric requires its 56,000 U.S. workers to be vaccinated. As a defense contractor, the company is adhering to White House orders that call on employees of federal contractors to get vaccinated, unless they receive exemption for medical or religious purposes.
Other assemblers are defiant. Tankcraft Corp., a manufacturer of metal fuel tanks and hydraulic reservoirs in Darien, WI, and its sister company, Plasticraft Corp., a plastic molding company, are among many manufacturers who filed suit to block the rule.
“The order is unconscionable. OSHA does not know how to run our companies. We do,” Steve Fettig, secretary and treasurer of the companies told the Milwaukee Journal. “OSHA does not know how to keep our employees safe. We do. And we have done so successfully since the start of the pandemic without the interference of a federal bureaucracy. We respect our employees’ fundamental right to make their own private, difficult medical choices.”
Mandate or no, it’s staggering to me that anyone would choose not to protect themselves against a highly contagious disease that has already claimed the lives of 794,000 Americans.
Vaccines work. I turned 57 this month. That makes me old enough to remember when polio and smallpox were very real threats.
Following the widespread use of polio vaccine in the mid-1950s, new cases of the disease declined dramatically in many industrialized countries. A global effort to eradicate polio began in 1988, led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and The Rotary Foundation. Those efforts reduced the number of cases from approximately 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 33 in 2018, and those were restricted entirely to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Had those countries not been afflicted by decades of war, we might have completely eradicated the disease worldwide.
As late as the 1950s, an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year. An outbreak in Yugoslavia in 1977 killed 35 people. That was just 45 years ago. Today, thanks to vaccines, the smallpox virus is extinct.
Trust medical professionals. Get vaccinated. Protect yourself, protect your family, protect your co-workers on the assembly line. We can beat this disease if we present a united front.