We Are Losing Sight of Public Health in Vaccination Debates

by James C. Sherlock

We in the process of losing our collective minds.

I read a story in the Roanoke Times by LuAnne Rife “One-third of Virginia’s long-term care workers declined COVID-19 vaccinations, as homes reopen to visitors.

We read other stories about teachers refusing vaccinations. They do it pointing to the fact that the vaccines are still under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

Some parents, going with the flow, refuse to vaccinate their children not just for COVID when those vaccines are available for children, but for the MMR vaccine already mandatory for school attendance in Virginia.

Some teachers and students then “demand” that the schools accommodate their preferences. Cue the anti-vaxxer hysteria.

We got to this point partly because the culture’s political and media elites spent eight months prior to the federal election conditioning the American public, who before COVID by and large did not spend five minutes a year worrying about vaccinations, to think of vaccines as dangerous. Especially if President Trump’s FDA approved them.

They did it for political reasons. Now they need to help fix what they broke.

The vaccine safety monitoring infrastructure is a federal responsibility and has been in place for decades. From the FDA:

“Post-authorization safety monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic vaccination program will aim to continuously monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines to rapidly detect safety problems if they exist. There will be multiple, complementary systems in place with validated analytic methods that can rapidly detect signals for possible vaccine safety problems. The U.S. government has a well-established post-authorization/post-approval vaccine safety monitoring infrastructure that will be scaled up to meet the needs of a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination program. The U.S. government – in partnership with health systems, academic centers, and private sector partners – will use multiple existing vaccine safety monitoring systems to monitor COVID-19 vaccines in the post-authorization/approval period. Some of these systems are the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), the Biologics Effectiveness and Safety (BEST) Initiative, and Medicare claims data.”

But the FDA also expects manufacturers who receive an EUA to continue their clinical trials to obtain additional safety and effectiveness information and pursue licensure (approval).

The COVID vaccine EUAs need to be converted to licensure with the same urgency that they were developed.

Once the licenses are issued, we need to mandate them under certain conditions. We already have laws that mandate vaccinations. See Code of Virginia § 22.1-271.2. Immunization requirements.

A. No student shall be admitted by a school unless at the time of admission the student or his parent submits documentary proof of immunization to the admitting official of the school or unless the student is exempted from immunization pursuant to subsection C or is a homeless child or youth as defined in subdivision A 7 of § 22.1-3.

C. No certificate of immunization shall be required for the admission to school of any student if (i) the student or his parent submits an affidavit to the admitting official stating that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with the student’s religious tenets or practices; or (ii) the school has written certification from a licensed physician, licensed nurse practitioner, or local health department that one or more of the required immunizations may be detrimental to the student’s health, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstance that contraindicates immunization.

We should not have to wait long for the “Church of No Vaccinations Now” or a “Doctors without Needles” non-profit. The courts can deal with those.

Once the COVID vaccines are licensed, we need to tell Americans with jobs that require those vaccinations for public safety that they must get them as a condition of those jobs.

Currently, voluntary vaccinations for workers whose jobs bring them in involuntary close contact to people and their food must be converted to mandatory requirements: school teachers, military personnel, law enforcement, healthcare workers, food workers and more.

Americans have the right to refuse a vaccine.

They don’t have a right to refuse a vaccine and also demand that we let them have jobs that endanger people who have no option but to be in close quarters with them. Find a different job.

This is unlikely to be the last pandemic. Even this one may require booster vaccinations to deal with new strains.

We need to write laws that prepare for not only the full licensure of COVID vaccines, but for the next ones and the ones after that.

It is time for our elected state officials to step up and write laws mandating specific types of pandemic vaccines in addition to MMR for schools and others for certain designated jobs to protect public health.