Right now, we feel like we’re on the cusp of getting back to normal after more than a year of pandemic restraint. First, though, we need to get to herd immunity and the biggest obstacle to reaching that goal is vaccine skepticism. Too many people believe the vaccine is either unsafe or some sort of nefarious plot to track Americans. The paranoia has been fueled by right-wing media outlets who breed fear and distrust.
We need all hands on deck to get across the finish line and we need to depoliticized the virus response. Conservative commentators and news outlets could help overcome that fear by spending more time convincing their audiences that the vaccines are safe, certainly safer than COVID, and less time bashing mask mandates and restrictions. Public health officials could spend more of their time being more honest with the public about masks and prevention. And governments should shoot down any notions of requiring some sort of vaccine passport.
I don’t think the government should be in the business of requiring people to get vaccinated. They need to convince people to get the shot and they need to build partners to do it. That said, I also don’t believe businesses or public places should be required to admit people who refuse to get vaccinated. Just like children are required to get vaccinated to attend public schools, adults should be required to be vaccinated to attend public colleges or universities. Private facilities should decide for themselves.
As for vaccine passports, they should be available to those who want them, but not required of anyone. Businesses that want to deny entry to people without them should be able to do so. Businesses that don’t care should be able to admit anyone. Then, it’s everybody’s decision whether or not they want to be in places that take COVID seriously or not.
Public health experts need to come clean about what’s safe and what’s not, where we need masks and where they don’t matter. As David Leonhardt says in the New York Times, “There are few if any documented cases of brief outdoor interactions leading to Covid transmission.” Increasingly, health experts are telling us masks outdoors are only necessary when unvaccinated people are spending substantial time together in close proximity. Even the New England Journal of Medicine believes outdoor mask mandates are unnecessary. For those who trust science, masks outdoors are unnecessary unless people are having long, face-to-face conversations with unvaccinated people. Spread the word.
For conservatives who are outraged by mandates, help end them by encouraging your supporters and audience to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Stirring outrage and distrust may be good for clicks, but it is working against getting us to normal again. Concern about executive overreach will still be valid even after the pandemic is over. Fight that battle, but make the case that putting down the virus should be the top priority of all of our citizens. Responsible, individual action is good for our communities and our country.
I agree with conservatives in that I don’t like mandates. I don’t think the government should require “vaccine passports,” but I also don’t think it should ban them, either. Mask mandates need to fade away and we begin by ending them for people outdoors. Conservatives need to become partners in promoting vaccines and put their outrage on the backburner until we can safely reopen. That’s what we need to get back to normal.
Derek Thompson in The Atlantic sums up my thoughts. “But we also need to build a sensible path to the post-pandemic world. A lot of people seem to have embraced an omni-neurotic approach to COVID-19 safety: ‘Don’t go to the beach, don’t take a walk with friends, don’t go to the park, don’t travel.’ I prefer a more targeted-neurotic approach that just tells the truth. And the truth is that COVID-19 is basically an indoor/talking disease: If you’re indoors, or talking with people outside your household, or both, you should be cautious—mask and socially distance.”
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >