In an effort to curb the rise in infections and deaths due to the spread of the Delta variant of covid-19, Joe Biden has announced sweeping measures to try and turn the tide. He has mandated that all federal workers and contractors be vaccinated and that all businesses with over 100 employees do the same. He has greatly reduced the options available for not getting vaccinated, especially for federal workers.
In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.
Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.facilities receiving federal benefits will also face the same requirements, he said.
The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.
It may seem sometimes, given the rise and fall of infections as new variants emerge, that this pandemic is never going to end. But history shows that pandemics do come to an end eventually. That does not mean, however, that the cause of the pandemic disappears even with vaccinations, as Nükhet Varlik, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, explains.
Whether bacterial, viral or parasitic, virtually every disease pathogen that has affected people over the last several thousand years is still with us, because it is nearly impossible to fully eradicate them.
The only disease that has been eradicated through vaccination is smallpox. Mass vaccination campaigns led by the World Health Organization in the 1960s and 1970s were successful, and in 1980, smallpox was declared the first – and still, the only – human disease to be fully eradicated.
So success stories like smallpox are exceptional. It is rather the rule that diseases come to stay.
Take, for example, pathogens like malaria. Transmitted via parasite, it’s almost as old as humanity and still exacts a heavy disease burden today: There were about 228 million malaria cases and 405,000 deaths worldwide in 2018. Since 1955, global programs to eradicate malaria, assisted by the use of DDT and chloroquine, brought some success, but the disease is still endemic in many countries of the Global South.
Similarly, diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and measles have been with us for several millennia. And despite all efforts, immediate eradication is still not in sight.
Add to this mix relatively younger pathogens, such as HIV and Ebola virus, along with influenza and coronaviruses including SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, and the overall epidemiological picture becomes clear. Research on the global burden of disease finds that annual mortality caused by infectious diseases – most of which occurs in the developing world – is nearly one-third of all deaths globally.
So it seems like the best we can hope for is that over time, we reach some kind of steady state with levels of infection low enough that we can deal with it without causing panic or overwhelming the health services. This does not mean that we should not take preventative measures. What things like vaccines and mask wearing and physical distancing can do is hasten the arrival of that steady state and reduce the levels of death and suffering on our way there.
It will also mean that those who defy those safety precautions can never be proven wrong. We should note that just 1% of the people who are infected with covid-19 die and another 20% are still active. That means about 80% recover, even though they may have gone through a harrowing experience and suffer from long term ailments.
This means that there will be some people who recklessly ignore all safety precautions and still not get infected or get infected and choose to treat themselves with ivermectin, hydroxychloroqine, bleach or other dubious and even dangerous treatments who will also recover and believe even more firmly that it was these treatments that saved them.
There is little we can do to convince them otherwise because statistics is hard and confirmation bias is strong.