Today New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that businesses with indoor activities like dining, fitness and entertainment will require proof of vaccination for admission and employment beginning September 13, 2021.   

New York City is the first major U.S. city to take such action amid a surge of new cases nationwide driven by the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 delta variant.  This initiative is intended to encourage unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated and to prevent the need for more lockdowns that would cause further economic loss.  

Last week, France passed a law that will require a health pass for access to restaurants, bars, trains and planes from the beginning of August.  In France, venues accommodating more than 50 people, including museums, cinemas and swimming pools, already required proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test. 

In New York, people will be able to confirm they are vaccinated by showing their vaccine card and by using NYC’s COVID SAFE App or New York state’s Excelsior Pass. 

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It is unclear what the policy will be for those who can’t be vaccinated either for medical or religious reasons, or for those under age 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.  City officials will spend the two weeks soliciting feedback on the policy before officially launching it on Aug. 16. They then will educate businesses and the public about the new requirement before  enforcement begins on Sept. 13.  

In New York City, about 55% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to city data.  And although that number isn’t particularly high, it is higher than the total vaccination rate in the US, which stands at around 50%. Vaccination rates in the city differ by borough.  About two-thirds of Manhattan residents are fully vaccinated, compared to just 46% of Bronx residents.

Although New York is experiencing increases in the number of cases and hospitalizations, it is in better shape than much of the rest of the country. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are once again increasing in nearly all states, fueled by the delta variant, which is much more contagious than past versions of the virus.

Nationwide, the highest incidence of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates. COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective measure to prevent infection and to avoid serious health consequences for those who become infected even after being vaccinated.

The goal of NYC’s program is to get more people vaccinated in order to reach a level of herd immunity where restrictions like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding travel are unnecessary. Vaccination rates have fallen in many places across the U.S.. It is in those areas with low vaccination rates that the Delta variant is taking root.

Is This A Good Policy?

That depends on your point of view. As one who has been vaccinated to protect myself and others, I think the policy, as explained so far, is a good one. It would be helpful if more places adopted similar ones because vaccination appears to be the best way to reach levels of herd immunity that will allow life to quickly return to normal or as close to that as possible with the fewest cases of sickness and death.

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Getting my second Pfizer dose at Charlotte Motor Speedway in February.

Some will view policies like the one’s in NYC and France as punishment for the unvaccinated. The flip side of that is to look at the policy as a reward for people who have been vaccinated and have done their part to end the pandemic. Not allowing vaccinated people to enjoy activities being vaccinated allows them to engage in safely is punishing the vaccinated. The NYC program eliminates some of the punishment the vaccinated must endure while still making vaccination a choice.

Unvaccinated people have been offered rewards including cash payments and other incentives to get the jab. It seems unfair to reward people for not doing the right thing to protect themselves and others.

Further, for a substantial segment of the population, rewards just haven’t worked. Some may be thinking the longer they hold out, the bigger the rewards that will be offered. Rewarding bad behavior is usually a bad idea in the long run.

Vaccinated individuals should still be subject to some restrictions because the CDC study that I referrenced three days ago shows that the delta variant can infect vaccinated individuals with the same amount of viral load as individuals who are unvaccinated. With delta, vaccinated individuals can be just as contagious as the unvaccinated. Vaccination just confers on vaccinated people much better protection against Covid-19’s worst effects.

In that regard, by not making wearing masks indoors mandatory for all, the New York City policy arguably doesn’t go far enough to protect the public.

Final Thoughts

Programs like the ones adopted in France and proposed in New York are controversial. They leave the unvaccinated on the outside looking in at some of the more enjoyable aspects of life in the Big Apple.

An unfortunate aspect of this policy, and all of the Covid-19 policies, is that, with the advice of scientific experts, the policies are made by politicians. That makes them susceptible to being influenced by political considerations rather than being designed purely to achieve the best public health outcome.

Are policies like this one a good idea? What additions or modifications would make it better? Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts in the comments.