Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, applauded President Biden’s plan to increase COVID-19 vaccination, saying it contains “the measures we need to get this pandemic under control.”
At an online media briefing Thursday evening, Jha said there were some areas where he wished the president had gone further, but overall Biden “got it right.”
“This is not 2020,” Jha said. “We are no longer at the mercy of the virus.”
The requirements to vaccinate health care workers, federal employees and contractors, and employees of larger companies “create better safety” for patients, workers, and elderly people, he said.
Vaccine mandates are not always popular, but by and large people obey them, he said. “The vaccine mandate themselves are going to substantially drive up vaccination.”
Indeed, Jha said, without such requirements “we would be looking at thousands of people dying every day for weeks and months on out. … We have all the tools to prevent it. I was happy to see the president deploy those tools.”
Jha especially praised the requirement that hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare dollars require all employees to be vaccinated. He called it “unconscionable” for health care systems to allow employees to go unvaccinated and “irresponsible” for health care workers to turn down the vaccine.
Biden has mandated that companies with 100 or more employees require either vaccination or regular testing. “It is not safe at this moment to return to a workplace where there is a large number of unvaccinated people,” Jha said. He acknowledged that he would have preferred it if Biden had required vaccination outright, without the option of testing, but he also said regular testing can be a very effective tool.
While he understands the argument that people have a right to refuse vaccination, Jha said, “People also have a right to be able to go to work and not get infected and not get sick and not die.”
Jha expressed disappointment that the vaccine mandate was not extended to colleges and universities.
And he wishes Biden had required vaccines for airline travelers. He likened such a mandate to smoking bans in bars. Business owners feared that the ban would drive customers away, but it turned out there were more people who preferred a smoke-free environment. Likewise, airlines may find that a vaccine mandate means that more people feel safe about traveling.
He also praised the plan to boost manufacturing of tests, saying that low-cost rapid tests should be widely available.
As for schools, Jha said, safety involves a combination of indoor masking, frequent testing, and vaccine mandates for all adults. Biden didn’t require these measures, and Jha said it’s important to “let local communities drive a lot of this decision-making. When governors block local communities from making these decisions, that is really irresponsible.”
Asked when the crisis will end, Jha said it will happen gradually. “There will not be a day when somebody will wave a flag and everyone will go celebrate. We’re not going to eradicate SARS-CoV-2,” he said. The end will come when enough people are immune so that “the virus becomes a nuisance and not a threat.”
Felice J. Freyer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.