Apologies for the length of this response, but I wish to provide a scientific refutation of the policies promoted by Dr. Hart and implemented at LLUMC. I am a scientist, but virology, public health, medicine, etc., are not my fields of expertise, so I am simply passing along what I have read. Consider the data and make up your own mind. Better yet, do what I do, and don’t “make up” your mind, but keep it open to change as evidence changes. That is what I respectfully invite Dr. Hart to do.
I’m interested that Dr. Hart used fluoridation as an example. As a chemist, I remember reading several fluoridation articles over the years in the official publication of the American Chemical Society. In 1988, for example, a senior reporter wrote: “Fluoridation of Water: Questions about health risks and benefits remain after more than 40 years” (Bette Hileman, Chem. Eng. News 1988, 66, 31, 26–42; https://doi.org/10.1021/cen-v066n031.p026). Turns out there were (are) serious issues with fluoridation. A key takeaway for our discussion is that the reason these issues remained unaddressed, and the reason debate continued 40+ years later, was that the EPA, Public Health Service, and editors of scientific publications suppressed views and studies submitted by scientists who didn’t support the narrative driven by these agencies that wanted universal fluoridation. Note that this was acknowledged in an official ACS publication, not some “crackpot” conspiracy site. I fear that much the same is happening now, with widespread suppression and deplatforming of scientists and doctors of great experience and expertise, just because they disagree with the prevailing narratives on COVID-19, its prevention and treatment. Or, even if they don’t disagree but merely ask challenging questions. That isn’t science; it is group-(non)think and propagandizing.
Vaccine mandates are being justified with the argument that the nonvaccinated pose a risk to others. For example, a nonvaccinated nurse might infect patients or fellow employees, and therefore hospitals like LLUMC are justified in mandating vaccination of employees. In some cases, those who disagree are terminated. In other cases, they are allowed to continue working but with twice-a-week testing and continuous mask-wearing (possibly at their own expense). Considering that these are often the same employees who courageously faced (and even were infected by) COVID-19 while caring for patients this past year, sometimes with little PPE available to wear, this policy is inexcusable unless the scientific evidence shows that they pose a major risk to others if not vaccinated. But do they? At a time when the Delta variant overwhelmingly prevails throughout the United States, what do the latest scientific findings show?
First, vaccine mandates that don’t allow for religious exemptions, especially in an Adventist hospital, would be surprising considering our stance on religious liberty, and of questionable legality. Likewise, mandates that don’t exempt those with health conditions that make them poor candidates for vaccination are inhumane. Hopefully LLUMC has exempted employees in these categories. But moving on from these cases, what about the general employee population? What does the science say?
Vaccine mandates that make no exception for those who have natural immunity due to previous infection fail to recognize that the latest information from highly vaccinated Israel shows that those with natural immunity have greater resistance than those twice-vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. (See Gazit et al., “Comparing SARS-CoV-2 natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity: reinfections versus breakthrough infections”; https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.08.24.21262415v1.full.pdf ). From their abstract, “SARS-CoV-2-naïve vaccinees had a 13.06-fold (95% CI, 8.08 to 21.11) increased risk for breakthrough infection with the Delta variant compared to those previously infected, when the first event (infection or vaccination) occurred during January and February of 2021. The increased risk was significant (P<0.001) for symptomatic disease as well.” That’s right. THIRTEEN TIMES more risk among the vaccinated. Even for those infected in 2020, the risk was still several times higher for the vaccinated.
But what about transmission? That’s the key issue anyway, right? It is sad if someone chooses not to be vaccinated and then suffers or dies from COVID-19, but that’s their choice. The argument under consideration in employer-employee relations is whether nonvaccinated people pose a higher risk of infecting others.
A recent study from a group in Wisconsin found viral loads in Dane County testing to be the same in vaccinated vs. nonvaccinated people (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.07.31.21261387v1.full.pdf). More relevant to Dr. Hart and LLUMC, an Oxford-affiliated tertiary hospital in Vietnam found that staff, who had all been uniformly vaccinated twice (this being Vietnam), two months after the second dose were spreading the Delta variant amongst each other at significant rates, with viral loads 251 times higher than the loads the general public had with the original virus months before (https://tinyurl.com/4ur8hxj2). Thus, “science” says that vaccination is not protecting against transmission of the Delta variant, which is the dominant strain in the USA. But it’s worse than that: because many vaccinated individuals have mild symptoms if they are infected, they don’t realize they are shedding virus. Furthermore, many vaccinated individuals feel free to resume normal life without distancing, masking, etc. because they feel protected. Thus, vaccinated individuals can easily be “super-spreaders.” That’s apparently what happened in Barnstable, MA.
So why, exactly, should an employer, including hospitals, require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID? They don’t apparently present a higher risk to patients or fellow employees. For those employers who don’t outright fire their nonvaccinated employees but require twice-weekly testing and fulltime masking if they aren’t vaccinated, why don’t they require the same of their vaccinated employees, since their transmission risk is apparently the same (or higher if they are getting infected off-the-job because they are less careful)? If testing/masking is necessary to protect patients or other employees from nonvaccinated staff, then the same protective measures are needed to protect against vaccinated staff.
If employer policies are about protecting clients, patients, or other employees, then science suggests that vaccinated and nonvaccinated employees should be treated the same, with the same preventive measures required.
If, on the other hand, society or employers feel an obligation to force vaccination on employees to protect those individuals themselves, then we have crossed a line. I would then solicit my friend Phil Brantley to provide a legal explanation for why employers looking after the health of their employees shouldn’t also mandate (both on and off the job) no smoking, no alcohol consumption, regular exercise, 8 hours of sleep, drinking water instead of soda or coffee, a vegan diet, or any of a number of other measures that are associated with better health outcomes (at least by some scientists or employers). After all, diseases like CVD, stroke and diabetes are associated with specific lifestyle choices, and they annually kill more people than COVID-19 has, year after year.
To be perfectly clear, my argument is not about whether vaccines work or not, or whether they are safe or not, or whether one would be wise to take them or not. (Sadly, I have two nonvaccinated friends in the hospital with COVID pneumonia as I write; I pray that they recover). It is about whether science supports employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates, or mandates in other areas such as entry into stores, public gatherings, etc. I believe a good argument can be made that it does not. One then must ask, Why are hospitals risking staff shortages and burn-out by stressing or terminating employees in the midst of a pandemic, if the science doesn’t support mandates?