Guest columnist Joshua Yearsley: Reasons to reject a vaccine mandate in Northampton

  • A person draws out Moderna vaccine during a drive through COVID-19 vaccine clinic at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, on Jan. 2, 2022. Lars Hagberg /The Canadian Press via AP

Published: 1/13/2022 11:42:30 AM
Modified: 1/13/2022 11:41:37 AM

This is an open letter to the Northampton Board of Health, regarding the vaccine mandate proposed late last month.

I want to thank you for the hard work you do keeping us all safe. That said, I am against the proposed vaccine mandate, for three reasons.

First, simply asking whether someone is vaccinated is a poor measure of whether they can actually transmit the coronavirus. Two-dose vaccination is much less effective at stopping the transmission of omicron compared to previous variants. Early research estimates that it is only 30-70% effective without a booster, and this effectiveness drops sharply over time: someone who got vaccinated six months ago is much more likely to get infected and transmit the virus than someone who got vaccinated recently.

Second, the mandate is easy to subvert and further burdens workers. People who want to get around this mandate can do so very easily: all they need is a fake vaccine card. It is just a piece of paper with no security features whatsoever. Most cities with mandates even accept a picture of the card, which is even easier to fake.

Even more, we will place the burden of checking vaccine cards on service workers. I barely need to reiterate the abuse that workers get for enforcing mask mandates, and now we will ask them to enforce vaccine mandates too.

Finally, the mandate will strengthen the surveillance state. With this mandate, basically every time an adult wants to go out to eat, drink, exercise, or be entertained, they must show their ID, and the mandate does not appear to give a clear timeline or metric for ending this requirement.

Creating a broad policy of identification and surveillance with no clear end point is dangerous. These may sound like extreme comparisons, but remember that the Patriot Act and other laws meant to keep us safe were passed in light of Sept. 11, but these laws led to mass surveillance of our private phone calls, emails, and text messages.

And I don’t need to remind you of the TSA, since you have to deal with this costly, restrictive bureaucracy every time you fly. If you must pass a vaccine mandate, please tell us from the beginning when or how it will end.

Instead of a vaccine mandate, I would urge the Board of Health to invest in air filtration. We know that air filters help to prevent COVID as well as other respiratory illnesses such as colds and flus. Even better, air filtration will reduce indoor particulate pollution, which is often generated by kitchens and is a common cause of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.

Recently, Smith College donated $500,000 to Northampton for use at the mayor’s discretion. Using less than a tenth of this donation, the city could give a grant to every business affected by the proposed mandate in order to buy air filters. The Northampton school system already has policies for choosing and using air filters, and you could give those very same policies to the wider business community.

I hope this provides an effective, actionable, inclusive alternative to think about, and thank you again for reading.

Joshua Yearsley lives in Northampton.

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