We need a vaccine mandate to save our health care system  

Editor’s note: Joe Tye’s message is in response to the Sept. 20 CBJ editorial, “Employers vaccine mandate unwise.”

Every year since my first hospital job in 1973, I’ve seen headlines about “the health care crisis.” But watching the latest COVID surge unfold and seeing its devastating impact on the health care industry, this is the first time I’ve felt the label is warranted.

There is growing resentment on the part of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers whose lives and careers are being disrupted and whose families are being put at risk by having to care for people who chose to get COVID by choosing not to be vaccinated. As a result, many are leaving the profession. In addition, almost every hospital and long-term care facility in America is facing a severe staffing shortage. Intensive care units are beyond maximum capacity in many places, and emergency rooms are crowded with sick patients waiting in hallways for the next available bed.

It will get worse before it gets better. Unless something changes soon, the damage to our health care system could be permanent. People will no longer be able to take for granted that hospitals will be there for them if they’re sick or injured. Quality of care will suffer as overwhelmed, and exhausted doctors and nurses struggle to care for people whose illnesses could easily have been prevented.

The American Organization for Nursing Leadership survey shows that the No. 1 challenge nurse managers face is “the emotional health and wellbeing of staff.” Furthermore, 36% of respondents say they suffer emotionally, a 50% increase in just the past six months.

In a survey of acute and critical care nurses by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 92% of respondents “believe the pandemic has depleted nurses and will cut their careers short,” and 76% “believe patients who choose not to be vaccinated undermine nurses’ wellbeing.”

In a survey of California nurse leaders currently being conducted by my company, more than 50% of respondents “are very concerned about the levels of anger and anxiety” among frontline staff, and another 10% fear their facilities will face serious problems resulting from caregiver PTSD.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of the anti-vaccination brigade, which echoes arguments the tobacco industry once made to promote so-called “smokers’ rights,” the science on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is clear — vaccines work. The fact that most COVID deaths are of unvaccinated people adds an exclamation point to that science.

A significant minority of the population will not voluntarily get vaccinated. As they continue to get sick and die, these casualties will further stress the health care system. The downward spiral of health care workers quitting, increasing the workload of those who remain will accelerate. The long-term damage to the health care system will take years, if not decades, to repair.

Begging, pleading, and cajoling did not motivate resistors to wear seatbelts. It did not motivate smokers to refrain from lighting cigarettes on airplanes. And it will not convince many of the unvaccinated to get a shot, even when it is manifestly in their interest to do so.

It’s easy for leaders to tell people they have rights and individual liberties. However, it takes courage for a leader to say they also have civic responsibilities that trump those individual rights.

As a nation, we are sleepwalking into an unprecedented health care crisis. The ramifications extend far beyond just health care and will inevitably harm the entire economy. We need our leaders to have the courage to protect their communities and the caregivers who serve those communities by requiring everyone to be vaccinated against this terrible disease.

Joe Tye is a health care consultant, author and speaker who lives in Solon. He can be reached at Joe@ValuesCoach.com.