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Editorial: No more playing around for the unvaccinated

A sign at a bar reads "Proof of vaccination required for indoor dining -- thanks"
A proof-of-vaccination sign is posted at a San Francisco bar.
(Associated Press)

It may soon be tougher to be unvaccinated against COVID-19 in Los Angeles — and that’s a good thing.

Last week, state agencies and the city of Los Angeles imposed rules requiring their employees to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing, and this week L.A. County officials moved to mandate vaccines for their workforce. Other employers have mandated immunization as well. Since then, the rate of vaccinations in California has increased.

But not quite enough to end the pandemic. And now Los Angeles authorities are weighing even tougher restrictions, similar to those announced recently in New York City, that would require patrons to show proof of vaccination to enter indoor businesses.

As fraught as such restrictions would be, not to mention controversial, they stop comfortably short of a universal vaccine mandate. People have the right to refuse medication.

But it’s reasonable, and in fact imperative, for authorities to limit the ability of those who are not immunized against COVID-19 — currently, nearly 30% of Angelenos over 16 — to spread infection during a public health crisis when cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the upswing. If conditions get much worse over the next few weeks, Los Angeles could even face new shutdowns similar to those last winter. No one wants that, least of all businesses that suffered greatly from forced closures.

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Nevertheless, Los Angeles must tread carefully in taking this next step. Any restrictions must be crafted strategically and compassionately — and with a clear ending point so that Angelenos know this is a temporary measure. They must accommodate people who are under 12 or who have medical conditions that don’t allow them to be inoculated.

The proposal put forth by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday does not quite meet those marks. For one thing, it goes too far by including essential businesses. Everyone needs access to groceries, clothing and prescriptions. Many of the people who remain unvaccinated are already struggling, and prohibiting them from shopping for essentials would be an undue hardship.

But what the unvaccinated can live without is seeing a movie in a theater, getting a spa treatment or observing happy hour inside the local bar. Imposing vaccine certification requirements on nonessential businesses would send a strong signal that having no shot equals having no fun.

Furthermore, we are concerned that the vaccine requirement proposed by the council only mandates a single shot. That might be an effective inducement for those to get a first jab, or for those who receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But full protection from the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is reached only after two shots, and there are too many people already skipping their second shots as it is.

And, finally, any local vaccine requirement would work best if it was imposed countywide, as the mask mandate has been. It would be confusing to have different rules for businesses on one end of Wilshire Boulevard compared with the other. An order issued by the county public health department would also have the benefit of going into effect quickly.

And with infections rising exponentially across the county, every day counts. For the unvaccinated, play time must end.


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