The government must lift employers’ restrictions requiring workers to be vaccinated, or risk thousands of lives. The delta variant has made landfall.
This variant of the covid19 virus has made a mockery of the concept of “herd immunity” (where the unvaccinated are protected by an immune population) everywhere it has hit.
On Monday, the head of the Israeli Health Ministry’s advisory committee for infectious diseases bluntly said: “The (real) question is whether the infected person is vaccinated or not.
"It’s unavoidable that the pandemic will infect the majority of the population.
"It won’t disappear in another half a year.”
This, by the way, is in a country which has vaccinated almost 67 per cent of its population.
Yale Medical School reckons that delta is two and a quarter times more infectious than the original virus. While vaccines, including AstraZeneca and Sinopharm, remain effective at protecting people from hospitalisation with the new variant, with delta they are just 50 per cent effective at preventing you from getting the virus, says the University of East Anglia.
Delta has moved the goalposts. It is now quite simply a race to vaccinate as much of the population as possible.
To protect everyone from the virus, it is not enough to vaccinate 70 per cent; we need to vaccinate the entire population. This is not only to protect the unvaccinated, but to prevent spread amongst the vaccinated that could result in the deaths of people with comorbidities or pre-existing conditions (albeit at a lower rate than for the unvaccinated).
With the latest announcement of donations from the US, we have enough vaccines to rapidly ramp up vaccinations. The chambers of commerce and others have rallied with cash and support to roll out centres across the country.
The trouble now is to get jabs in arms and move the hesitant.
Of course, we need a more effective messaging campaign (or indeed a campaign at all), which I and the medical community have repeatedly called for. But any campaign will be blunted when employers are actively being prevented from keeping their employees and customers safe.
The most effective way to improve vaccine take-up right now is to allow employers to require employees to be vaccinated. I guarantee that the minute this is announced, every single employer in the country will mandate vaccinations for their employees.
Employers can and should make every possible effort to share health information and engage with their teams with empathy. Sending an employee home should always be a last resort. But the stakes are too high. The delta variant has meant that we don’t have the luxury of lengthy debate.
Unvaccinated employees are a risk to their colleagues and their families. That’s why employers should quite rightly be allowed to respect the rights of their vaccinated employees and their customers to a safe environment.
People are incredibly anxious to reopen their businesses. So are most employees, especially those in the hardest-hit food, retail and entertainment sectors. They are suffering.
But any reopening will be short-lived with the spectre of the delta variant just around the corner. This is a matter of economics as much as it is heath and liberty.
The Ministry of Labour and government should make this the highest priority. Once employers can act freely to safeguard health, this will result in a massive vaccine uptake.
Let’s be clear: this is not about freedom of choice or any other liberal cause. Nor is it about workers’ rights. The first people to support this move should be the unions. It is their own vaccinated members that are at risk.
As a liberal, I’m always wary whenever any government seeks to use a crisis to restrict individual rights. That is not the case here. The current restrictions on employers that prevent them from protecting workers from covid19 are not only dangerous, they also infringe the basic rights of freedom of association of both employers and vaccinated workers. Lifting these restrictions will make us freer.
The government may well be wary of a political backlash from this. No politician wants to go around wearing hard hats as protection against flying projectiles or violent cranks.
But they can at least be assured of the support of the more than 400,000 voters who have already taken the vaccine, many of whom still struggle to pay rent and are anxious to get back to work, as well as of the business community.
Just as the great majority of the country supported the lockdown restrictions, the government and our frontline health workers can be sure that a majority will rally behind them.
It is time to act.
Kiran Mathur Mohammed is an economist and co-founder of medl, an IDB lab-backed social impact health tech company.