Editorial: Bring on the COVID vaccination mandates

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 23.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was the first to receive an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. And as of Monday, it is the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive full approval from the FDA for people over age 16.

It’s a milestone moment in the prolonged public health crisis. The status upgrade may not affect the lives of people who have already received one or two of the 200 million Pfizer doses that have been administered in the U.S., but it’s a game changer for the millions of Americans who aren’t vaccinated.

Why? Because although a small portion of the population are adamantly opposed to getting immunized against COVID-19 for ideological or mystical reasons, many of those who are unvaccinated aren’t dug in on the position. In fact, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31% of those who have yet to receive a shot said they would be more likely to do so after the FDA gave full approval.


Fantastic. Now they have no excuse to not get a shot of the Pfizer vaccine, other than finding one. Moderna could receive full approval for its mRNA vaccine as soon as next month.

Still, approval may not be enough to motivate procrastinators who are rooted in a foolish misbelief they aren’t at risk. (On a related note, it’s perplexing that some people would reject a safe and widely available vaccine that has gone through extensive clinical trials and been relentlessly scrutinized, and instead ingest ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medicine intended for livestock, on the basis of a few suggestive studies, one of which has already been pulled from a journal.) Everyone who is human is at risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, serious long-term effects and death — but all of those outcomes are greatly reduced by vaccination.

With full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, public employers and private businesses now have a green light to start imposing tough vaccination requirements on employees and even customers, which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says they they have the right to do to protect their workers. On Monday, the Pentagon said it will require vaccinations for U.S. military service members. Some employers already had imposed vaccination requirements, including the L.A. Unified School District and the city of Los Angeles, though requiring a vaccination with merely an emergency use authorization is a legally gray area.

As unpopular as they may be, mandates work. After Gov. Gavin Newsom and mayors in major cities including Los Angeles announced new vaccination requirements for government employees and workers in healthcare facilities, the pace of inoculation in California rose immediately. And we will need more mandates to stop the current surge before it gets worse. Hospitals are filling up in states with low vaccination rates — an alarming number of the patients are children who were largely spared serious illness from an earlier strain.

A few caveats: Some adults have legitimate health reasons to avoid a shot and should be given an exemption, as should kids under age 12 who are not yet eligible for a shot. Employers that do require that workers get immunized ought to also provide access to free shots and offer paid time off for those who experience side effects, which can range from mild arm pain to flu-like symptoms.

Some people will view any vaccination mandates as tyranny intruding on their personal freedom. Yet, sickening others have never been a protected freedom. No Americans will be held down and forced to get a shot. But they shouldn’t have the right to continue acting — and working and partying and traveling — as if they weren’t living through a public health emergency and risking the well-being of those around them.