United Kingdom

Expert says COVID-19 vaccine mandates for government employees may boost shot rates

Cities and states that require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 may actually boost their immunization rates, a public health expert says.

This week, New York and California became the first states to mandate that public employees get COVID-19 shots or undergo weekly testing.

Dr Barun Mathema, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told ABC News that this strategy may be even more effective that the vaccine lotteries that several states attempted.

He says the programs will increase vaccine confidence and encourage workers to get their shots to avoid the hassle of weekly tests.

'This is saying the government, unambiguously, supports vaccination. One can try things like lotteries to entice individuals but, to me, this is a serious and thoughtful approach,' he told ABC News.  

'There will [also] certainly be some people who find the constant testing inconvenient.' 

New York and California are the first states to mandate that public workers get COVID-19 vaccines or undergo weekly testing as cases rise due to the Indian 'Delta' variant. Pictured: A healthcare worker takes a nasal swab sample to test for coronavirus in New York City, May 2020

An epidemiologist says the new rule may actually boost rates higher than vaccine lotteries did because it 'says the government supports vaccination' as rates decline 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio became the first leader in the country to announce that employees at public hospitals would need to get vaccinated before expanding the mandate to all city employees.

The new rule requires workers to get vaccinated by September 13, unless they have medical or religious reasons.

As of Tuesday, 70.9 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and 65.5 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Health Department. 

But many public health agencies have lagging vaccination rates with the NYPD only having a 42 percent rate and the FDNY having a 55 percent rate. 

De Blasio said the new vaccine-or-test rule will help stop the spread of the Indian 'Delta' variant, which has caused cases to rise in the city from an average of 245 earlier this month to 922 as of Sunday. 

In a press conference on Monday, de Blasio said the city may impose more 'mandates and measures whenever needed to fight the Delta variant.' 

'This is about our recovery, this is about what we need to do to bring back New York City, this is about keeping people safe, this is about making sure our families get through COVID OK, this is about bringing back jobs, you name it,' he added. 

Hours later, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a similar rule, giving 249,000 state workers until August 9 to get the vaccine or get tested weekly. 

Cases in the state have increased-eight fold from below 1,000 a day to more than 7,000 in just one month. 

'California has committed to vaccination verification and or testing on a weekly basis,' Newsom said at a press conference on Monday.  

He adds that it could also help persuade workers who were on the fence about getting vaccinate because they don't want to get tested every week, with cases rising eight-fold in California (above)

On Wednesday, NYC's order was extended throughout the state with Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing the state's roughly 250,000 government workers have until Labor Day - September 6 - to get vaccinated or face weekly testing to continue working in their public sector jobs. 

Cuomo admitted this was an 'aggressive step' but said 'we need dramatic action to get control of this situation' as cases have surged 400 percent since the end of June from 200 per day to about 1,000 per day.

Mathema told ABC News there will be many employees who choose to undergo weekly testing and said that state leaders also need to promote vaccine education. 

'I do believe this needs to be met with outreach, strong outreach and consistent outreach,' he said. 

'We do need to be tactful, show empathy and address real issues that are out there: people's concerns over the vaccine.'

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