Get vaccinated or get terminated. That’s the precedent being set by businesses, corporations, and universities at an increasingly alarming rate.
Delta Airlines announced it’s requiring vaccines for all new hires. The University of Pennsylvania Health System is requiring all employees and clinical staff to be vaccinated no later than Sept. 1 of this year. More than 400 colleges and universities are doing the same, requiring students and employees to get COVID-19 vaccines to return to campuses.
In other workplaces, vaccine mandates are taking a different shape. Salesforce, for example, is one of many businesses reopening its doors to fully vaccinated employees only. Not vaccinated yet? Have fun explaining that one to your boss.
The wrath against so-called “anti-vaxxers,” or more accurately termed “the vaccine-hesitant,” is real. According to “The View’s” Joy Behar, former Donald Trump supporters are refusing the vaccine “to fix Nancy Pelosi.” (Never mind that the former president called the vaccine “one of the greatest medical miracles” and took it back in January). Her colleague Sunny Hostin added, “We need to shun those who refuse to get vaccinated.” Considering the scale that it’s happening, she must be satisfied.
The reason so many cite for young, healthy Americans who aren’t at high risk of severe COVID-19 to get vaccinated is to protect “the immunocompromised or people who can’t get vaccinated yet.” Yet, if that’s the case, shouldn’t the policies and rhetoric being applied to those who are not yet vaccinated better reflect that?
The New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast chose to make a Republican evangelical Christian couple who believe in a Bill Gates “microchip” conspiracy theory the banner of its vaccine hesitancy story. The Atlantic blamed vaccine resistance on “COVID-19 denialism.” While these narratives exist and are a relevant piece of the story, they don’t accurately reflect the entire picture of why some Americans have delayed getting vaccinated. Among them: fertility concerns.
Only a couple of weeks after learning I was pregnant, the COVID-19 vaccine became available to me. This left me in a predicament: risk getting COVID-19 while pregnant or taking an experimental vaccine while trying to grow a tiny baby inside me.
After becoming pregnant, my risk for COVID-19 increased overnight. I now had to worry about the potential side effects of a severe infection on both my baby and me. According to the Centers for Disease Control, pregnant women with COVID-19 are at an increased risk of developing blood clots or having a preterm birth. Since I have already delivered a premature baby, those risks weighed heavily on me, and the prospect of one or two shots diminishing them sounded nothing short of miraculous.
On the other hand, the possibility of injecting my body with an experimental vaccine, for which I had very little data to assure me it’s fully safe for my baby this early in life, was also scary. While most doctors have gone out of their way to assure me it’s safe to get vaccinated at any point of pregnancy, I know first-hand that the advice within the medical community on this issue is far from uniform, and the studies are not yet there.
Thus far, research on the vaccines’ safety and pregnancy is promising. In April, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, “Preliminary findings did not show obvious safety signals among pregnant persons who received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.” The authors noted, however, the data “are preliminary, are from a small sample, and describe mostly neonatal outcomes from third-trimester vaccination.”
In other words, there’s little data to assure pregnant women that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for babies in early pregnancy. Most of those who received the vaccine during their first trimester had not yet given birth by the conclusion of the study.
Pregnancy is just one of many reasons a relatively small group of Americans are vaccine-hesitant. While some reasons are political or may be based on conspiracy theories, it does the nation’s vaccination effort no favors to write off, mock, or ignore the legitimate concerns held by various groups.
Worse, by mandating vaccines for work, school, or other events, Americans with pre-existing health conditions and fertility concerns are being pushed against a wall, pressured to publicly explain and defend themselves to friends, colleagues, and bosses alike. Unless they’re able to successfully obtain a medical exemption, they could also be at risk of losing their jobs.
Until more data is available and its “experimental status” is removed, no one should be forced to publicly explain themselves, disclose private health information, or share their pregnancy status before they are ready. Especially in the area of women’s fertility, it’s a gross invasion of personal privacy to ask if someone is vaccinated and if not — why. For that reason, my own vaccination status is and will remain private.
Instead of banning, shaming, and singling out those who are delaying getting the vaccine, Americans should express compassion, stick to the facts, and work overtime to release more data. Amongst those not yet vaccinated, many look forward to the day they are.