- peter ball
- bbc world service
The US may have played a key role in developing the first vaccine against Kovid-19, but now it is in the middle of a big dilemma regarding its use. Should people be forced to take it?
From being banned from restaurants and sporting events to losing their jobs, proof of vaccination has become a big issue, especially in New York in recent weeks.
And what happens could affect the rest of the world as vaccination rates soar and countries wonder how best to continue fighting the pandemic.
“I’m not completely against vaccines,” says Crislidi Castillo.
“I’m just saying I don’t want to take it now because I’m breastfeeding.”
The 27-year-old special education teacher worked at a New York City school until a few weeks ago. He was put on indefinite leave along with thousands of other employees of the Education Department who had not received even a single dose of the COVID vaccine.
Since then, that order has been extended to all municipal employees who must take the shot or lose their jobs.
“I don’t think it’s safe because there isn’t enough research done,” Crislidi says, although COVID vaccines approved in the United States have passed medical tests and have been approved in dozens of other countries.
She is now without pay and says that if she accepts a job offer from a private school (so that she can go back to work), she will have a 60% pay cut and lose health insurance.
ChrisLeady applied for a vaccine exception request, but the initial request and its appeal were denied.
Exemptions are only allowed if they are listed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He recommends that breastfeeding mothers be vaccinated and says there is no medical evidence that it is unsafe.
However, Chrisleedy still doesn’t want to get the vaccine: “I’m basically just being punished for a personal decision. Not because I’m selfish, but because I want to protect my daughter.”
The Department of Education says, “Vaccines are our strongest tool in the fight against COVID-19. This decision is on the right side of the law and will protect our students and staff.”
In a legal case over a vaccine mandate, lawyers for the Department of Education established the city’s position that people “do not have the right to teach children without vaccination against a dangerous infectious disease. A rational public health measure, but important”.
Nearly 10,000 workers in New York find themselves in a position similar to ChrisLeady’s. But city officials say there has been a huge jump in the number of vaccinated workers since the mandate came into force.
After the rule change, the number of first responders who received the vaccine increased from 74% to 87%, while in fire departments it increased from 64% to 77%.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was no disruption to the city’s services, despite warnings from unions that there could be a shortage of workers because unvaccinated people were put on indefinite leave.
“This is my message: Every mayor of America, every governor of America, every CEO of a company in America, deploy a vaccine mandate and you will keep everyone safe and help us end the covid era forever.”
One person who doesn’t want that is Douglas Kariman.
He was impressed by the vaccine mandate established by New York state officials for all healthcare workers.
“I’m not one of those antivaxxers, I’m not against every vaccine out there,” he says.
“I’m not one of those people who say the virus is fake, I’ve seen it and I’ve seen the deaths.”
Douglas lives in Lancaster, western New York, and works as a nurse in a local intensive care unit.
His work hangs in the balance as judges consider a lawsuit filed by fellow doctors asking officials to consider religious exemptions to a statewide vaccine mandate for doctors.
“As much as they say they studied vaccines, and I believe there are no long-term studies about them.”
In addition to worrying about how new vaccines are, Christian Douglas, a Baptist, also has religious objections to vaccinations, based on the use of embryonic cells in their development.
The cells were obtained from embryos aborted decades ago. However, no embryonic cells are present in any vaccine, and many large religious groups that oppose abortion, such as the Catholic Church, still recommend vaccination.
If the legal process for obtaining a religious exemption fails, Douglas will likely not be able to work in New York State.
“I have a disabled wife. She doesn’t work so it’s all on me.”
“If I lose my job, I can lose everything. It’s my livelihood, you know.”
Her only option would be to travel about an hour-and-a-half to neighboring Pennsylvania to get to work — a state that doesn’t currently have a vaccine mandate for doctors.
“Actually, I’m thinking about moving on after all this. I hate to say it because my family and parents are here, but what am I going to do?”
New York Governor Cathy Hochul upheld the vaccine’s mandate policy, saying, “We believe it worked. It had a significant impact on our ability to protect people, especially healthcare professionals.”
State lawyers have repeatedly opposed attempts to add any religious exemptions to the mandate.
Dr. Calvin Sun is a medical professional who thinks differently about both the vaccine and the mandate. He works as a paramedic in emergency medicine in New York City.
He says that, at the peak of the pandemic, he saw “enough to cause a lifelong nightmare”.
And they do not think that getting vaccinated puts them at a greater risk than getting Kovid.
“The risks do not outweigh the benefits of the vaccine,” he says.
“All the critically ill patients I saw (at work) who had a covid were not vaccinated.”
Sun believes that, therefore, officials had the right to use the vaccine mandate.
“I think it’s a shame that we have to get to a point where we need a mandate. Because, from a medical point of view, we always want to guide the patient to a choice, where they can take care of their own well-being. choose to do so for the darling of the community and their loved ones,” he says.
But he believes that just as people are required to wear seat belts while driving, not texting, “We have to give up some freedom for safety’s sake.” And in the case of the COVID pandemic, that means getting vaccines “to make sure the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and that spaces are left open to vulnerable patients”.
He also thinks other states could follow New York’s lead: “We can show the world that (the mandate) is not as bad as people fear.”
In many places around the world, Kovid is also making strict rules regarding vaccination.
In Europe, Latvia decided to allow companies to fire employees who did not agree to vaccinations or to work from home.
In Asia, parts of Indonesia have made vaccination mandatory for all citizens. Costa Rica became one of the first Latin American countries to seek to immunize civil servants.
As thousands of people die from Covid-19 every week around the world, many other countries will have to grapple with tough decisions about how to combat vaccine hesitation.
Even if it means taking the stance: “No Vaccines, No Jobs”
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