A Health Paradox and a Path to Escape Absurdity

The United States began widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution on December 14th, 2020; however, after ten months the CDC reports that only 56% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. When compared to other high socioeconomic (SES) nations, the U.S.’s vaccination rate ranks among the lowest. While the people of low SES nations are pleading to high SES nations to increase their access to this preventive medicine, the people of the United States are privileged to not face this access-related issue. Instead, a barrage of misinformation has convinced a large portion of the U.S. population to not get fully vaccinated. Efforts to counter vaccine misinformation have done little to repair the damage created in the public’s perception of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Biden Administration must follow through on their proposed OSHA COVID-19 vaccine mandate and expand those mandates to cover other gaps in our public health intervention. 

According to the scientific journal, Nature, low SES nations collectively have a vaccination rate of less than 1%. The low vaccination rate experienced in these nations is directly attributed to strict pharmaceutical patents in the United States and other western nations that are preventing these nations from producing cheaper alternatives. The UN Development Programme projects that low SES nations are expected to lose over $220 billion as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This immense economic loss will cause deep social impacts to these nations, likely impacting human rights, education, and food security. 

The people of U.S. do not experience the access-related issue that low SES nations face, on the contrary there is an overabundance of the vaccine, allowing immunocompromised people to receive third doses. The main driving force behind the low vaccination rate in the U.S. is the bombardment of misinformation, which has its biggest impact on marginalized and working-class communities. Much of this misinformation targets the mistrust these marginalized groups already have in public health intervention, especially relating to abuses like the Tuskegee Study and the early stages of HIV/ AIDS outreach. When it comes to working-class communities, finding time to get the vaccine can be hard due to potentially missing work or lack of adequate transportation.  For many working class people, these factors in conjunction with misinformation, causes many workers to view missing work to receive the vaccine doses as too risky

In September of 2021, the Biden administration announced that it will compel OSHA to mandate vaccinations for all companies with more than one hundred workers. The Administration projects that this mandate will push “80 million American workers” to vaccinate. While this will be great at incentivizing more workers to receive the vaccination, it will significantly burden marginalized and working-class individuals if these mandates aren’t coupled with protections and benefits. These could include providing subsidies for the transportation cost and missed work, as well as protections from employer retaliation. Further, the Administration can compel other agencies to promulgate rules that expand the mandate even more. For example, the Administration can compel the Department of Transportation to mandate proof of vaccination for all interstate public transportation. With these modified actions, the Biden Administration can help to significantly increase the United States’ vaccination rate.

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