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Dr. Jeff Kahn: The volatile ethics of COVID vaccine and mask mandates

Virus Outbreak NYC Schools
Mary Altaffer/AP File
Teachers protesting the COVID-19 vaccination mandates in New York on Wednesday Aug. 25, 2021. New York City teachers and other school staff were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when the bells rang today (Monday morning, Oct. 4) in one of the first districtwide mandates requiring school employees to get their shots.

It’s Midday on EthicsToday, a conversation about vaccine mandates. Tom's guest is Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the director of The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

To entice those who are reluctant to become inoculated, the private and public sector have tried education, trusted influencers and a range of incentives, from money to doughnuts to tickets to beer. But patience is wearing thin with those who are still, despite wide availability and solid evidence of efficacy and safety, refusing to act in a way that will help stop transmission of this deadly disease.

There is some early evidence that mandates are effective. The New York Times reported last week that in New York, where a mandate for health workers is in effect, roughly 92% of workers in hospitals and nursing homes have now been vaccinated. Other Health systems in California and Texas report that the wave of resignations predicted when mandates were announced have not materialized. Private companies report equally high levels of vaccinations after they instituted mandates.

In California, not only teachers and staff at public schools will be required to be inoculated. Soon, all students age 12 and up will have to get vaccinated in order to attend classes.

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn directs the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics (Kahn).

Mandates are the subject of several lawsuits, but so far, the courts have held that the state or private employers do have the right to require vaccination against certain diseases in the interest of public health. On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied a request from some New York City teachers to block the city’s vaccine mandate.

Many who choose not to be vaccinated frame the issue as one of personal liberty rather than public health. What do the rest of us owe them?

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn joins us on our digital line from his office in Baltimore.

We welcome listeners comments and questions...

Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.