Ignore the Headlines. Vaccination Mandates Work.

Employers across the country are requiring workers to stop procrastinating and get vaccinated. And that’s exactly what workers are doing.

James Surowiecki

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Daniel Schludi for Unsplash

In the battle over employer vaccination mandates (whether imposed by private businesses, like United Airlines, or by governments on public employees), the most common argument against the mandates has been a simple philosophical one: it’s wrong to force people to get vaccinated, since it should be their choice to do so or not. But along with it, opponents of mandates have also made an empirical argument: these mandates won’t actually work. People will quit rather than get a shot. So requiring people to get vaccinated as a condition of employment, they contend, won’t boost the vaccination rate at all.

This argument always seemed a bit implausible, given that we know vaccination requirements at schools have been incredibly effective at boosting vaccination rates for children, and given that we know a big chunk of unvaccinated Americans describe themselves as vaccine-hesitant (meaning they could be swayed) rather than ardently opposed. But there have been surveys where close to half of vaccine-hesitant workers said they would quit or look for another job if their employer put a mandate in place. And it’s easy to understand why mandate opponents have claimed requirements were ineffective: if mandates don’t even accomplish what they’re designed to do, then firing people for not complying with them would be easier to portray as unjust.

Unfortunately for opponents of mandates, though, we now have reams of real-world evidence on the effectiveness of employer mandates, and what that evidence shows is that vaccination requirements are incredibly effective at boosting vaccination rates. United Airlines now has more than 99% of its 67,000 employees vaccinated. Yale New Haven Health, which has more than 30,000 employees, says only 420 of them are now unvaccinated (or haven’t received an exemption), and that it expects all but around 100 will be vaccinated by the final deadline. 92% of New York City public-school teachers have now gotten at least one shot. And while there had been apocalyptic predictions that tens of thousands of health-care workers in New York State would be…

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James Surowiecki

I’m the author of The Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve been a business columnist for Slate and The New Yorker and written for a wide range of other publications.