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Janey should be willing to use every power she has to get people vaccinated

Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey at an afternoon press-conference.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Are vaccine passports racist?

That seems to be the question Acting Mayor Kim Janey placed on the table this week, when she carelessly invoked the legacy of racism in explaining why she opposes requiring proof of vaccinations.

“There’s a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers whether we’re talking about this from the standpoint of, you know..during slavery, post slavery,” Janey said during a Tuesday public appearance. “As recent as, you know, what the immigrant population has to go through here. We heard Trump with the birth certificate nonsense.”

To her credit, Janey eventually walked back her profoundly ill-considered, and none too eloquent, analogy. Comparing the requiring of vaccination to the brutal strictures of slavery is silly.

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But ill-considered language was not the only issue here.

We remain in the midst of a raging pandemic — so much for that “hot summer” everyone was talking about. And the unremitting plague continues to disproportionately affect communities of color.

It’s time for leaders to use every lever they have to get people vaccinated. And time to stop wasting energy trying to understand why people are hesitant, or pretending that pushing vaccination represents some kind of latent discrimination. That isn’t helping anybody, even if it may play well politically in Janey’s base.

Andrea Campbell is the candidate who has talked about this issue like someone who understands what’s at stake.

The city councilor and mayoral opponent wasted no time accusing Janey of a lack of leadership on this; she was rightly appalled by the way the acting mayor said it as well.

“The acting mayor’s comments yesterday put people’s health at risk, plain and simple,” Campbell said in a City Hall press conference. “There is already too much misinformation directed at our residents about this pandemic, particularly from Black and brown residents.” She added that politicians should stop giving conspiracies any oxygen.

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This back-and-forth was all set in motion by an announcement by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that New York would begin requiring proof of vaccination in public places such as restaurants and gyms. Boston, clearly, is headed in a different direction — unfortunately.

Campbell actually got into it on Twitter Friday with Rudy Giuliani, who spoke out in favor of no mandates. “Mind your own legal woes and stay out of Boston’s business,” Campbell tweeted back,

To be fair, Janey stressed that she is pushing hard for unvaccinated residents to get the vaccine. She is not a vaccine skeptic, or anything of the sort. She has made many good pandemic-related decisions, including adopting guidelines for schools that exceed the policies adopted by Governor Charlie Baker.

But in case anyone hasn’t noticed, that huge sigh of relief we all felt around the beginning of May was a bit premature. We in Boston are lucky — we live in one of the most vaccinated major cities in America. This isn’t Florida, or Texas. But COVID is far from done with us.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing within reason should be off the table. City workers should have to get vaccinated. (Janey says she is “talking to the unions” about that, which does not fill me with optimism.) I’m all for requiring vaccinations to go to a restaurant or a gym. Why not? At this point people have made their choices. The rest of us shouldn’t have to risk the Delta variant, or whatever variety of hell lurks after that, because of other people’s “hesitancy.” If they oppose vaccination so strongly, they can do push-ups at home.

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I’m very well aware of the history of discriminatory treatment Janey evoked. I know, too, that the medical establishment has wronged Black and brown people at many turns. I’ve written about this multiple times during the course of this plague.

But taking options for ending this siege off the table just doesn’t work anymore, not when every significant indicator is moving in the wrong direction. At this point, anything that pushes people toward getting vaccinated — and making us all safer — is the only right thing to do.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.