COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Are Working, Public Health Experts Say

Carolyn Crist

November 10, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

While COVID-19 vaccine mandates have sparked lawsuits and protests, the data shows that they're working and increasing vaccination rates.

Some organizations have reported vaccination rates that jumped from less than 50% to more than 90%, according to ABC News. Workplace mandates have especially encouraged employees who were on the fence to get a shot.

"In general, vaccine mandates work," James Colgrove, a public health professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told ABC News.

For decades, the US has monitored the effectiveness of vaccine mandates in schools, he noted, which have successfully required shots against measles, mumps, and other illnesses that used to be widespread. Certain employees, such as hospital workers, must take vaccines for their jobs, he said, and those requirements have also been effective over the years.

"The more normalized it becomes, the more people know someone else who is vaccinated, the more people will comply," he said. "With any vaccine, the longer it's been around, the more people get with it."

With the widespread and contagious nature of COVID-19, workplaces have been forced to consider vaccine mandates to protect their employees and prevent worker shortages, Colgrove said.

Some companies began to issue vaccine rules this summer as the Delta variant caused a jump in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Major companies, including Google, Tyson Foods, United Airlines, and the Walt Disney Company, required in-person employees to get a shot. So far, the results from those mandates have been strong, ABC News reported.

For instance, Tyson announced a mandate in August, when less than half of its 140,000 employees were vaccinated. When the deadline came at the end of October, more than 60,000 additional employees had been vaccinated, and the vaccination rate was 96%.

"Has this made a difference in the health and safety of our team members? Absolutely. We've seen a significant decline in the number of active cases companywide," Donnie King, CEO and president of Tyson Foods, said in a statement.

United Airlines has also shared that 99.7% of its 67,000 employees are vaccinated. Within 48 hours of announcing its mandate, the number of unvaccinated staffers fell from 593 to 320 people, ABC News reported.

Vaccine mandates appear to be working in the public sector as well. State health department officials in Washington told ABC News that the percentage of public employees who were vaccinated jumped from 49% in September to 96% by the vaccine mandate deadline in October.

Vaccination rates have also increased in New York City, where some employees in the fire, police, and sanitation departments protested the mandate. By the deadline, vaccination rates shifted from less than 75% to 82% in the fire department, 86% in the police department, and 91% of EMS personnel, ABC News reported.

Overall, vaccine mandates tend to reach groups who aren't completely against the vaccine, medical experts told the news outlet. A small percentage of the population truly opposes the shot, but in most cases, unvaccinated people are on the fence or haven't seen good enough messaging for it.

"When you look at vaccine resistance, the people who are the most opposed often make a very large amount of noise that is at odds with the actual numbers who are against vaccination," Colgrove said.

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