Editorial: Getting tough with vaccines in Nassau

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Editorial: Getting tough with vaccines in Nassau
Daughters of the American Revolution visit Port’s Historical Society / Photo by Robbie Lager

To attend daycare or pre-K in New York, a child must be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, rubella, polio and chickenpox.

To attend middle school and high school, a child must also be vaccinated for whooping cough again and meningitis.

And to attend 12th grade, students need a booster shot for meningitis.

So there is plenty of precedent and more than enough reasons for local school districts to now require additional vaccine shots for students 12 and over for COVID-19.

The school districts should not stop there. All teachers, administrators and school staff should also be mandated – yes, mandated – to be vaccinated.

Students under 12 should be required to wear masks until a vaccine is made available for them, hopefully sometime this winter. And then they should be required to be vaccinated.

School districts must do everything they can to ensure that students start the school year in-person and finish the school year with no interruptions in between.

We all know too well the cost of students learning from home in terms of education, social development and mental health. And the economic cost to parents forced to stay home to care for their children.

As has been said repeatedly, the latest spike in the COVID-19 cases led by the Delta variant is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But it is felt by everyone.

It is time that those who fail to get vaccinated, for whatever reason, should not be allowed to prevent those who did get vaccinated to return to something close to their normal lives.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week urged school districts grappling with waves of coronavirus infections to introduce tougher public-health measures for the upcoming academic year.

Cuomo’s call came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance recommending that all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear masks in schools regardless of whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Cuomo warned that schools could “become super-spreaders in September” without the right precautions.

But the governor refused to take the next logical step and mandate vaccines. And uncharacteristically, he left the decision in the hands of local school districts.

The only problem with Cuomo’s advice is that local school districts say they are awaiting guidance from the state Department of Health – as was pointed out by Betty Rosa, the state Education Department commissioner in a letter to school officials across the state.

We suspect Cuomo, once hailed as a national leader on the response to COVID, recognizes how Republicans in the state would respond to a mandate by accusing him of taking away their freedom.

This is ridiculous, though still a politically useful argument for Republicans if they are willing to ignore school requirements that they no doubt observed, history and common sense. Which we are confident they would.

Vaccine mandates go all the way back to the Revolutionary War when Gen. George Washington required his troops to receive smallpox shots lest he be unable to field an army.

And schools have been mandating vaccines for decades for good reason. Have you ever met someone who had polio in recent years?

We are the freest country in the world. But you are not allowed to drive drunk or smoke cigarettes indoors.

Cuomo revised his stance Monday, saying the state is considering making vaccinations mandatory for nursing home workers, teachers and all health-care employees if COVID cases keep rising.

Even this tentative move toward sanity was opposed by the New York State United Teachers Association.

New York Times business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin perfectly expressed the ludicrousness of this position.

“Teachers, whose entire professional mission is to educate and keep kids safe, won’t require the vaccine among themselves,” Sorkin tweeted. “(This after the union didn’t want teachers in the classroom for nearly a year.) Let that sink in.”

County Executive Laura Curran pointed out following the CDC’s new guidelines that Nassau has one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States at more than 80 percent receiving at least one shot.

Curran is correct. Local government officials, hospitals, businesses and, most importantly, residents in Nassau have done a remarkable job in getting vaccinated – after the county experienced a disproportionate share of death and suffering as the epicenter of the pandemic in its early days.

It is also true that the pandemic is now mostly the story of two Americas. Blue states like New York have relatively high vaccination rates and low infection rates. And red states in the thrall of former President Trump and his acolytes in government, on cable television and social media with low vaccination rates and high infection rates.

Florida, under Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-supporting presidential hopeful, now accounts for 20 percent of the new infections in the country and is experiencing its highest level of infection since the pandemic began.

Still, this is no time for New York to relax over how it handles its schools. Or its hospital workers, first responders, nursing home staffers and front-line workers. All should be mandated to be vaccinated.

President Biden last week sought to revive the nation’s stalled push to vaccinate Americans against the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus, announcing new requirements for federal workers: Get vaccinated or face regular testing, social distancing, mask-wearing and limits on official travel.

Biden’s new requirements were an important step forward. We think he should have gone further.

“Numerous businesses — including Netflix, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Washington Post, Ascension Health, Lyft, Google and Morgan Stanley — all announced get-tough policies that require their workers to get shots as a condition of employment,” The New York Times reported.

Requiring school employees, police and other government employees to get vaccinated will save lives and reduce infections whose effects may last for months or years.

With the number of infections increasing in every state and the death toll already exceeding 600,000 people nationally – about the same number of Americans who have died in every war since the turn of the 20th century – this country should be on a wartime footing.

We are not calling for the unvaccinated to storm the beach at Normandy. Just get a jab or two in the arm. And protect people who have followed health guidelines from those who haven’t – in the classroom or anywhere else.

 

 

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