France Increases Vaccinations
And so general discussion of vaccine passports and requirements in the US.
France was lagging in its vaccination rates, so the National Assembly passed, and President Macron signed a vaccine passport law. Beginning on August 1, access to indoor public venues like cafes, restaurants, and bars. And, dare I say, voila! and the number of vaccinated persons has started to rise. The NYT reports, Persuasion vs. Coercion: Vaccine Debate in Europe Heats Up.
Barreling through 1,200 proposed amendments, defying accusations of authoritarianism and chaos from the hard right and left, the lower house voted by 117 to 86 to back President Macron’s attempt to strong-arm the French to get vaccinated by making their lives miserable if they do not.
Europe’s problem is similar to that of the United States: vaccination levels that, at around or just under 60 percent, are inadequate for herd immunity; surging Delta variant cases; and growing divisions over how far getting an injection can be mandated.
But where the United States has generally not gone beyond hospitals and major health systems requiring employees to get Covid-19 vaccines, major European economies including France and Italy are moving closer to making vaccines mandatory for everyone.
Mr. Macron’s measures, announced July 12 as the only means to avoid yet another French lockdown, have spurred both protests and an extraordinary surge in vaccinations, with 3.7 million booked in the first week after the president spoke, and a record of nearly 900,000 vaccinations in a single day on July 19. In this sense, his bold move has been a success.
This outcome suggests a couple of things. One, that perhaps a lot of vaccine hesitancy is just vaccination procrastination rather than some profound fear of the shots. Second, a little motivation goes a long way in getting people to make a decision. If a given person’s choice is doing nothing and life goes on or one has to go mess with getting a shot, the cost-benefit is to default to doing nothing. Now, if that person can no longer dine out or go to the pub, then the calculation shifts. And yes, I fully recognize that not getting Covid ought to be part of the calculation, but how many people avoid basic medical care (e.g., getting their teeth cleaned) because they just don’t want to hassle with it despite the known risks of such behavior? (How many people smoke and convince themselves that they will be the odd cases that won’t get lung cancer?).
Of course, and unfortunately, something like this will not happen in the United States. For one thing, France has a unitary state, meaning that the national government can mandate rules in ways that are impossible in a federal system like the US. In other words, while US states have a substantial amount of policy autonomy, French Departments are essentially administrative units more like US counties than US states.
And since there is no national consensus on vaccinations, and specifically because the politicization of vaccines has meant that Republican-controlled states are actively opposed to measures like what happened in France (and is likely to happen elsewhere in Europe) we are simply not going to see any national mandates of this type.
It is encouraging that some prominent Republican politicians are starting to understand the situation we are in (although the degree to which they understand how they themselves helped to create it remains to be seen. For example, the Governor of my state, Kay Ivey, said this week (as James Joyner quoted earlier in the week):
“Folks are supposed to have common sense. It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down….I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself.”
Yet, just two months ago (via WSFA), Ivey signs bill to ban ‘vaccine passports’ in Alabama.
The mixed message here is stark. Kudos to her for promoting voluntary vaccination and being clear that she, herself, was vaccinated. But signing performative laws to signal that the state supports banning any kind of comprehensive approach is a great way for the “regular people” to also be “the unvaccinated folks.”
As I said in the comment section of one of James’ recent posts: if this state had required proof of vaccination or a negative test to attend college football game this fall, the results would have been a lot like what was seen in France.
Ballotpedia has the following map of federalism in action on this topic:
To add to that, here is a map of colleges and universities requiring proof of vaccination via the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Look, I understand that people have the right to refuse medical treatment. But there are also broader collective public health considerations that need to be taken into consideration. It is not unreasonable to want rules that will actively encourage individuals to be vaccinated. You have to have certain shots to attend K-12 or to live in a university dorm. This is not some new notion that we are dealing with.
But when politicians and their media allies convince large swaths of people that a given virus is no big deal (just the sniffles, dontcha know) then this is where we end up. And we are about to see the consequences of that bad behavior, and it isn’t going to be pleasant.