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Delta-driven surge spurs governments, major companies to mandate vaccinations

As the country wrestles with this latest delta-driven surge, governments and some corporations are mandating that their employees get vaccinated. William Brangham looks at what these mandates require and whether they’ll make a difference, and speaks to Andy Slavitt, former senior adviser to President Biden's COVID-19 response team.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the country wrestles with this latest Delta-driven surge, governments and some corporations are mandating that their employees get vaccinated.

    William Brangham looks at what these mandates require and whether they will make a difference.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    Many major cities and states, from New York City to California, have begun mandating vaccinations, or at least routine testing for government employees.

    Yesterday, the Biden administration did the same for all federal workers, and the Pentagon is expected to follow suit. Major U.S. companies, including Google, Tyson Foods, Walmart, United Airlines, and Disney, have also taken similar steps.

    But many are still concerned that the pace of vaccination is still too slow, and want the private sector to do more.

    Among them is Andy Slavitt. He was a former senior adviser on COVID policy in the Biden White House.

    Andy Slavitt, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    You recently co-authored a letter with a bipartisan group of former government officials and public health experts urging the private sector to do more in this regard.

    Let's say companies do take up your call. How much will that, in fact, move the needle.

  • Andy Slavitt:

    We know that there's about 25 million Americans who say that, if they were asked by their employer, required by their employer, or needed to be vaccinated in order to get into major venues or gather in crowds, that they would, without objection, get vaccinated.

    And what that tells us is that there's a number of people to whom getting vaccinated is neither a big positive or a big negative. It's just not a big priority. And so we need leadership from all across society, not just the government, but people who are trusted by individuals and who can lead individuals.

    And corporations are the next big horizon. So, if we do our jobs and if corporations step up, we can go from about 70 percent of adult Americans vaccinated to 80 percent. And that would be — make an enormous difference and save a lot of lives.

  • William Brangham:

    So, your sense is that this is moving that sort of mushy, movable middle of people who don't have a strong ideological objection to vaccines; they just need a little bit more of a nudge?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Yes, I mean, we think it's important that we respect people's individual rights, that we — that we listen to people who have concerns about getting vaccinated and try to answer their questions.

    But, at the same time, we also have to have respect for people who don't have an option in the matter and people who can't get vaccinated because they are under 12 or who are immunocompromised, they have had cancer, they have had AIDS. And so they don't get a say in the matter.

    And so what we're asking employers to do is prioritize the needs and concerns of people who don't have a choice over all people that have a choice and are electing either not to get vaccinated or to get vaccinated by essentially saying, we require people who come to our workplace to be vaccinated, unless there's some very good reason.

    And, if not, at the very least, everybody needs to be tested and show that they have got a negative test result continuously.

  • William Brangham:

    I was talking with the CEO of a hospital down in Louisiana this week who half their staff are not vaccinated.

    And the CEO was somewhat leery of mandates, and they weren't doing one yet. It seemed to me that his concern was a backlash, that mandating vaccination might cause more harm than good.

    Do you share that fear that this could invite a backlash?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    I don't.

    Look, I understand that there's people who feel strongly about this issue. But I would call this the easiest hard decision you ever have to make, because the easiest hard decision you have to make is a decision where, at end of the day, you're saving people's lives, and you're also choosing people who can't really speak for themselves here.

    So I would say to that CEO what I would say to any other CEO, that, yes, there's going to be people with strong opinions, and, yes, we know you would prefer to stay out of it, but, unfortunately, that's not the case we're living in. And if you want to be part of bringing COVID to its knees, then you have got to step up and lead and do things like this.

    And what we have experienced is that, for all of the people who might be concerned about it, there are many, many, many more people who say, thank you, I feel safer now.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, but we have seen some significant pushback, from unions, from some law enforcement agencies. Governors in Texas and Florida have passed laws blocking vaccine mandates.

    You don't see this coming to more of a — more conflict over this issue?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Well, of course, there's — of course, there's going to be conflict. Of course, there's going to be strong opinions, and we need to listen to everybody. The question is, who are we going to value here?

    Listen to Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor from Arkansas, who is now saying that it was a mistake to pass the kind of laws that were passed, and also in Texas in Florida. The difference between Asa Hutchinson and the governors of, say, Florida, Ron DeSantis, is, he has no political aspirations. He's only — other than to be governor of the state, and to keep people in the state healthy.

    And I think it's a matter of what we prioritize and what we value. And if what we value is a commitment to one another, and keeping each other safe, and putting this pandemic behind us by reducing spread and getting schools open, there's no question that employers will take more aggressive actions.

    And, again, I think there's room in certain situations for people who have reasons not to get vaccinated to say, fine, but we need you to show up at work and take a negative test on a regular basis, because we have to be able to assure the people who come on our premises that we're going to keep them safe.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Andy Slavitt, former White House COVID adviser, thank you very much for being here.

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Thank you.

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