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Incentivize voluntary vaccination

By Staff | Sep 22, 2021

With hospital systems, including Lee Health, pleading for help due to the surge in COVID cases, President Joe Biden has released his six-pronged Path Out of the Pandemic Plan.

Among the highlights are components to vaccinate the unvaccinated, protect those who are vaccinated, safely keep schools open, increase testing and mask requirements, protect economic recovery and improve care for those with COVID-19, including support for over-burdened hospitals.

The plan is detailed, comprehensive — and, as are many COVID orders, mandates, plans, et al., peppered with political posturing.

This does not mean there is not good within President Biden’s COVID-19 action plan.

It just means that portions poke partisan hot buttons when more carrot, and less stick, would accomplish more.

The good?

Boosting the rollout of booster shots to address the minimal, but real, number of breakthrough infections. While only 1 in 5,000 vaccinated individuals are showing new infection, given the fact that 175 million of us have literally rolled up our sleeves in the battle against the virus, a plan to provide a better level of protection is advisable.

Along the same lines, the plan pledges the administration’s support of the FDA’s efforts to approve a safe and effective vaccine for children under 12.

The call for increased testing — by supporting and fostering manufacturing efforts, by making at-home rapid testing affordable to all and free to Medicaid beneficiaries, by offering free testing at food banks, community centers and at an expanded number of pharmacy locations — is all to the good.

We, in fact, applaud the call for affordable home rapid tests so that anyone, with any symptom, vaccinated or not, can “be sure,” in minutes and with ease.

The bad?

Vaccination mandates in a health crisis that has been so politicized that mask mandates have become a line people are willing to die on.

Literally.

President Biden’s call in July for vaccination requirements for federal government employees has been formalized into a pair of signed Executive Orders requiring all employees within the executive branch and all federal agencies, including the military, as well as employees of contractors that do business with the federal government, to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22.

Employees with health care systems that accept federal reimbursement through Medicaid and Medicare face vaccination requirements as do employees of businesses with 100-plus employees. Rules for the latter are now being drafted.

States, meanwhile, are asked to impose vaccination requirements for school employees.

Let us reiterate here that we support vaccination.

It is the best tool to protect your health, the health of your loved ones and others around you and it is the best way to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to, if not its end, its knees.

But a vaccination mandate?

It’s just another sheaf of papers to be waved about, debated, contested, and then filed as part of the legal challenges to come.

A couple of things.

President Biden tells us that 175 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. There are about 80 million eligible who are not.

We agree, 80 million is too many.

But to reach those who are not — statistically, those 18-49 and those among a minority demographic, according to KFF, a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues — we need more than a mandate for the low-hanging fruit among governmental reach.

We need those at-home rapid tests and easier access for those who are under served.

We need more incentives and more widespread access for those who are younger and may be inclined.

And we need to stop the politics on both sides that have caused the diehards — and those who for whatever reason feel they are not part of the debate — to opt out.

Options that rise to mind include free or near-free rapid test kits readily available or mailed to homes; monetary incentives such as cash or gift cards and yes, even vaccination lotteries in states experiencing spikes.

Where’s the money going to come from?

KFF has taken a look at the cost of COVID hospitalizations during the most current case spike.

According to a report KFF released this week, the cost of preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults was nearly $6 billion in the last three months alone, climbing rapidly from more than half a billion dollars in June to $1.4 billion in July to $3.7 billion in August — almost double from the previous two months.

KFF said based on its analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data about COVID-19 hospital admissions, it estimates that each COVID hospitalization, on average, results in roughly $20,000 in hospital costs.

That’s only the dollar cost.

The human cost is much greater.

“Our analysis of HHS and CDC data indicates there were 32,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations in June, 68,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations in July, and another 187,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults in the U.S. in August, for a total of 287,000 across the three months,” a KFF release on its report states.

Prevention is far less costly than treatment — and we are not just talking dollars here.

As for President Biden’s plan, we venture that any path out of this pandemic is not going to be bulldozed with mandates.

The political grandstanding, on both sides, simply has made for too rocky a roadbed.

What is called for here, is an easy bridge over the divide.

–Eagle editorial