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Vaccine Mandates for Returning to the Office

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The global trend

The threat of the Delta variant coupled with a plateau in Covid-19 vaccinations has caused another bad wave of cases and hospitalizations in the United States. Despite having an abundant supply of vaccines, even going as far as donating millions of doses to developing countries, a good chunk of Americans is still unwilling to get vaccinated or at least holding out.

Rather than wait for the unvaccinated portion of the workforce to decide to get vaccinated, companies in the U.S. big and small are enacting Covid-19 vaccine mandates. These mandates can be as harsh as preventing employees from entering the workplace absent any proof of vaccination, or they can be as lenient as asking employees who wish to return to the office to disclose their vaccination status.

Legally, businesses are allowed to enact vaccine mandates – the concern has always been about perception. Being perceived as a company that would not allow for any freedom, especially on an issue relating to one’s health, would not bode well for that company. It could easily be used as a reason for an employee to quit and go to work for a competitor. That’s why vaccine mandates enacted by businesses would work even more effectively if they were adopted in an industry-wide fashion – top leaders from competing businesses would have to come together and agree that they would enact vaccine mandates, for a fairer playing field.

The situation in my country, the Philippines

In a developing country like the Philippines, however, the subject of vaccine mandates becomes a little tricky.

First thing’s first, I’ll probably have to give some credit to the current administration for how compliant people have been in terms of mask mandates and quarantine restrictions. To be honest, there’s still a lot to complain about with the way things have been handled by the national government – but to their credit they’ve been able to enforce the wearing of face shields (on top of existing mask mandates) in all public places, especially for indoor spaces.

The enforcement aspect during the pandemic is important because it shows you that people from my country easily bow down to authority (sometimes without question) and should vaccine mandates arrive, you already have an idea what the current administration is capable of forcing upon the general public.

Early on in the Philippines’ vaccination rollout, there was more hesitancy, especially coming from the elderly and from those with underlying health conditions. With the uptick on supply though, the trouble now is catching up with people’s demand to get vaccinated. Last week in Manila, a viral video of a stampede showed thousands of people flooding a vaccination site in stampede fashion, some lining up to get vaccinated at the break of dawn. Some cities even go as far as holding 24/7 vaccination sites. Here in Mandaue, Cebu they’ve had to suspend walk-ins multiple times because of the multiple vaccination sites being maxed out and flooded everyday.

The Delta variant is hammering my country hard, but the willingness (or desperation) of people to get vaccinated provides some glimmer of hope. And once my country gets to a stage where there’s finally enough vaccine supply for the masses, vaccine mandates probably won’t be that hard to implement. The current rule from our Department of Labor and Employment is that companies who prevent workers from doing their jobs because of not being vaccinated must pay those employees for the days they were not able to work. And the Department of Health has also come out multiple times saying that getting vaccinated is still a personal health decision. To sum up, the Philippines is still at a stage where Covid-19 vaccination is completely voluntary.

The obvious benefits of vaccine mandates

The first obvious benefit that I can think of if businesses mandate Covid-19 vaccination is that there would be a lot less risk of getting Covid-19 in the workplace. And this would encourage people to get back to the office, especially those with several family members living with them. There are workers who, although they’re already fully vaccinated, still do not wish to return to the office for fear of Covid-19 transmission – their fear isn’t for themselves, but for their family members who might get infected because of them.

Another benefit would be the lessening in uncertainty, especially for the economy. Companies reinstating more stable work setups, especially ones that involve regularly reporting to offices means other sectors will open back up without hesitation. Your favorite food trucks that closed during the pandemic could finally make a return, restaurants and retailers would be able to have more faith in the economy.

Third, normalcy would be closer. Vaccine mandates are enacted to speed up vaccination rates. The faster the unvaccinated population gets the Covid-19 shots, the closer we would come to normalcy.

Downsides of vaccine mandates

The obvious downside is the lack of personal freedom.

There are several rights being infringed upon when you don’t give a person a choice to get vaccinated or not – religious freedom, right to health (or personal health choices), you name it – but it’s matter of weighing these rights against the general welfare of the people, public health. Mandating vaccines to workers who don’t want to get vaccinated will effectively strip them of their jobs, or worse, coerce them into agreeing into something deeply against their own principles or values.

Second is the prevalence of forged or fake vaccine cards, or fraudulent means of presenting proof of vaccination. The other side to this whole issue is that there will be people who’d like to enjoy the benefits without actually contributing to the solution – and this is already happening. On Twitter, some people ask for links to buy a fake vaccine card. In countries with poor vaccine card authentication measures, you can easily make the vaccine card yourself or ask someone good in Photoshop to do it for you.

When will the rest of the world catch up?

I think it’s very crucial to note that the hospitalization crisis due to the Delta variant is happening for different reasons when comparing a highly vaccinated country like the United States, to a country that’s barely catching up like the Philippines.

In the United States, hospitalizations for the unvaccinated are happening because these are people who are mainly in the segment of those who refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine even though they had sufficient access. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, while vaccine refusal or hold-out is also happening, the vaccination rate and coverage still isn’t at a state where you can administer as many doses as you can to those who want to get vaccinated.

That’s why a developing country like the Philippines isn't set up in a position where some of its big businesses can require its employees to get vaccinated as a condition to return to work. There just isn’t enough supply and coverage whereby vaccine mandates can be implemented in a widespread fashion. There were even several reports where the executives of big-name companies who bought vaccines in the first quarter still haven’t received their vaccine shipments until now, causing these execs to avail of the government’s free shots rolled out through the local government units.

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