ANNAPOLIS — Vaccine passports requiring proof of COVD vaccinations to get into restaurants, sporting events, concerts and for travel as well as employers mandating shots for their workers could have disproportionate impacts on Blacks, Hispanics and lower-income residents and workers.
There is a concerted push for businesses and governments to impose coronavirus vaccination requirements to compel more of the unvaccinated to get COVID vaccine shots as demand for shots slows and the Delta variant propels new reported cases and hospitalizations for the virus.
Tyson Foods announced Tuesday it was requiring its workers to get COVID vaccines by Nov. 1 at the latest pending union negotiations. The food and meatpacking conglomerate has 139,000 workers and will require corporate workers be vaccinated by Oct. 1. It joins a chorus of employers telling workers to get vaccines.
“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the single most effective thing we can do to protect our team members, their families and their communities,” said Dr. Claudia Coplein, chief medical officer for Tyson Foods. “With rapidly rising COVID-19 case counts of contagious, dangerous variants leading to increasing rates of severe illness and hospitalization among the U.S. unvaccinated population, this is the right time to take the next step to ensure a fully vaccinated workforce.”
New York City announced Tuesday it was requiring proof of vaccines for indoor dining, fitness centers and indoor concerts. European countries are implementing more expansive vaccine passports with the aim of compelling more of the unvaccinated to get COVID jabs. The state of New York is compelling transit workers to also get COVID vaccine shots.
The vaccine mandates from big employers and New York — including proof of vaccination requirements from Broadway theaters — could set a precedent for other states and localities.
“The only way to patronize these establishments indoors will be if you’re vaccinated,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we’re going to stop the delta variant, the time is now.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who lifted the state’s mask mandates earlier this summer but has not opposed state universities imposing vaccinate requirements for students and staff, will have a briefing on the COVID situation in the state on Thursday, Aug. 5.
Maryland reported 695 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and statewide hospitalizations stand at 325 patients, according to the state health department. It is the most new cases since early May though hospitalization remain well below previous pandemic spikes.
While some advocates aim vaccine passports and requirements at reluctant and resistant Trump voters, the mandates could have bigger impacts on African Americans and Latinos — who have lower vaccination rates in Maryland, New York, Florida and nationally, according to data from health agencies.
There could also be class divides in terms of the impacts of COVID vaccine mandates from employers and governments. Wealthier areas have higher vaccination rates than poorer neighborhoods and communities.
In New York City, for example, 31% of Blacks and 42% of Hispanics are fully vaccinated, according to the local health department. That compares to 46% for whites and 71% for Asians. The city also sees higher vaccination rates in affluent Manhattan (67%) compared to the Bronx (46%) which is more working class.
The same trend holds true in Maryland.
In Maryland, 62% of whites and 64% of Asians in the state are vaccinated compared to 44.5% of Blacks and 47% of Hispanics, when comparing vaccination and population data.
Overall, Maryland has a 59.2% vaccination rate. And like New York and other places more affluent areas have higher vaccination rates.
Talbot County — which reported zero new COVID cases on Aug. 3 and has 19 active cases — has a 59.9% vaccination rate. Montgomery County has a 64.7% rate and Howard County has a 68.1% rate, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
Those three counties are among the most affluent in the state.
By comparison, Maryland counties with the lowest per capita income levels also have lower COVID vaccine rates. Baltimore city has a 48% fully vaccinated rate. Somerset County on the Eastern Shore has a 37.5% rate. Allegany County in western Maryland has a 40.8% fully vaccinated rate, according to MDH.
The push for vaccine passports and employer mandates come as parts of the U.S. see a summer rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations, sparking renewed U.S Centers for Disease Control guidance for the fully vaccinated to wear masks in crowded settings such as workplaces. School districts across the country are reimposing mask mandates and the Biden administration is looking at the legality of a national vaccine mandate.
Florida has seen a significant recent rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations putting pressure on Gov. Rick DeSantis. The state also faces a vaccine divide. While 49% of Florida’s population is vaccinated, the levels are significantly lower in some rural areas as well for Blacks, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Florida Department of Health. Florida’s health agency reported July 29 that 25% of African Americans in Florida had received a COVID vaccine.
Mass vaccination efforts have run into resistance from some African Americans and Hispanics as well as rural residents and Trump supporters with historical or contemporary distrust of the government and vaccines. Some communities — including on the Eastern Shore — with limited access to medical service and health insurance have also shown lower vaccination rates than more affluent areas.
Mandates from employers — including the federal government and Biden administration— face some pushback beyond from Republicans with some resistance from labor unions including the American Postal Workers Union and New York State Teachers Union
“While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent,” the postal workers union said in a statement.