Last week, I took my kids into Boston—a city I have loved—to eat our last meal there. I lived in Boston for longer than I have lived anywhere. We bought our first house in Boston, in the South End. All three of our children were born in Boston. When we moved to Newton in January of 2020, ease of access to Boston was a key consideration. I loved Boston. It is a little jewel of a city. Beautiful, bursting with history, easy to manage, and yes, friendly.
But yesterday, we enjoyed our last supper there. We went to the restaurant around the corner from our old house, the restaurant where, while renovating, and lacking a kitchen, we ate dinner every day for 3 months. We saw the servers and bartenders whom we’ve now known for more than a decade, who have watched all three of our kids go from bundles stashed in baby carriers under the table, to (mostly) well-behaved children who love escargot.
With the introduction of Mayor Wu’s vaccine mandates, we will no longer be patronizing any establishment in Boston requiring proof of vaccination to enter. We will #BoycottBoston. For those of you starting to grumble, I am “fully-vaccinated”. However, I will not avail myself of services that are denied to other residents of the city based solely on their medical decisions. I won’t support a policy that excludes 1/3 of the city’s Black and Hispanic residents—more than 90,000 people.
Source: Massachusetts Department of Health https://t.co/ZDZU2mXwiL
I won’t support a policy founded on willful ignorance and implemented with unabashed arrogance. The data is now overwhelming. In Scotland, in England, in Iceland, in Canada. Double-vaccinated are the MOST likely to be infected. Un-vaccinated are the LEAST likely to be infected.
Scotland Source, Visualization. Iceland, source. Ontario Canada, source. England source, visualization.
With the advent of Omicron, double vaccination offered no protection from infection at any time, and in those who had been double-vaccinated for 4 months or more (most people), it yielded negative efficacy of ~38%, meaning those people were almost 40% MORE likely to become infected (and hence transmit) than an unvaccinated person. While boosters offered a paltry 37% protection within 1 week, the study looks no further, and the Scottish data above make it clear that this benefit is fleeting, and boosted people are still more likely to contract—and hence, transmit—COVID than un-vaccinated people. There is no reason for anyone to fear unvaccinated people more than vaccinated people.
None of this is news. Data from Sweden (below) released in October demonstrated a similar (but more attenuated) effect. A study of 67 countries and ~3000 U.S. counties released in September in the European Journal of Epidemiology noted the following: “At the country-level, there appears to be no discernable relationship between percentage of population fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days (Fig. 1). In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher COVID-19 cases per 1 million people.”
Had we followed the data, instead of the political science, this would have come as no surprise, been no big deal. Initially, Pharma companies were telegraphing (based on early animal studies) that the vaccines were not sterilizing, i.e. did not stop infection. They were—rightly—telegraphing that vaccines, which reduced disease severity, but not infection, would still be a powerful tool in the fight against COVID. But they are tools that we use differently than sterilizing vaccines. For instance, we don’t mandate non-sterilizing flu vaccines. Increases in infection rates among vaccinated cohorts, suggest there may be a public health argument against mandating vaccines. Somewhat provocatively, a 2018 study found a 6-fold increase in fine aerosol viral shedding among people who were vaccinated for flu, vs. those who were not. It was also dose-dependent—more vaccinations, more shedding. A mechanism perhaps? Certainly food for thought.
Hospitalization, and hospital capacity have been used as another pretext for mandating vaccines, as it has become glaringly obvious that protection from infection is waning. Yet, we see that in Boston as of January 7th, COVID patients occupied just 15% of the beds. What’s more, this number still includes the incidental COVID patients--people in the hospital with not for--which as long ago as December of 2020, MGH’s director estimated to be approximately 30% of the patients. The point being, this, too, is not new, just newly something which can be discussed.
Source: HHS data, visualization, https://www.emilyburns.vote/covid-dashboards.
There is no compelling public interest in a vaccine mandate. With 99%+ of Bostonians over 65 vaccinated once, and 94% between 50 and 64, it is clear that the vast majority of Bostonians who are at risk have chosen to avail themselves of this personal protection. In those younger than 50, at no point has there ever been any excess death at all.
The argument that some extremely fragile people cannot be vaccinated, and so others must be vaccinated to protect them, holds no water when it comes to a non-sterilizing vaccine. This is doubly so in light of the real world data cited above. In fact, worrying trends suggest the opposite may be true.
If there is no public benefit to population-wide vaccination, and virtually every single person who would benefit from it personally has taken the vaccine, what possible reason is there for a mandate?
The answer is that the fear that has been drummed up by politicians, from the local public health director all the way to the president, must be assuaged. Politicians promised that vaccination would make COVID go away. But rather than acknowledge that they were wrong, they have tried to pretend that they were right, and to shift the blame from themselves to the unvaccinated, othering and de-humanizing them. Politicians have encouraged this. While they could have chosen to highlight the data that would have helped to calm people’s fears, they have instead inflamed those fears. So long as that fear and anger rages, these feckless leaders are protected from recrimination. They have created a false Manichean world where people who are vaccinated are good, and protecting not just themselves, but others by their choices, and where unvaccinated people are bad, recklessly endangering themselves, but more importantly, endangering the good, vaccinated people. That this simplistic world view is not true, doesn’t matter. People who are afraid do not behave rationally.
We need to step back, and we need to look at the data, and begin to behave rationally. We cannot allow our politicians to save themselves, by weaponizing our fears and directing them against our neighbors. But we have, and the corrosion is deep.
The myth, of course is that these “unvaccinated” people are deplorable Trump voters. The truth is a little more uncomfortable—particularly in the northeast. Of the 180,000 Bostonians (pop 690K) who are unvaccinated, 83K are white, the other ~100K are people of color.
I want you to step back for a moment and read the following paragraphs, taken from a recent op-ed in Western Massachusetts. Every time you see the word “unvaccinated”, substitute in the words “Blacks and Hispanics” Then I want you to ask yourself if you would want to associate with a person so filled with fear and hate of other people.
“At every level of society we should be free to discriminate against the unvaccinated.
Airlines should be able to deny tickets to the unvaccinated. Insurers should be able to deny coverage to the unvaccinated or charge a premium. Hospitals should put the unvaccinated at the end of the line when there aren’t enough beds. Businesses of all kinds should be able to deny entry to the unvaccinated. Schools should not admit unvaccinated students, just as they already do for other diseases.
I feel well protected from COVID-19. By getting vaccinated I’ve done what I need to do to protect myself, and I’ve done my civic duty to take the most effective action I can to avoid spreading the disease.”
These are not the words of a well-intentioned, well-balanced citizen. These are the words of an ignorant, self-satisfied bigot who enjoys inflicting harm on the people whom he fears. These are the words of someone who takes pleasure in the harm he causes, who believes that by inflicting it, he is performing a kind of religious right, some sort of societally cleansing ablution. Thus have bigots of all kinds and in all circumstances considered themselves since time immemorial. This is below us. We cannot let ourselves support policies that are fueled by such hatred, and supported by such ignorance.
As noted above, 67% of Blacks have received one dose, 69% of Hispanics, 73% of whites, and 95% of Asians. To call it ironic that Mayor Wu pulls out the race card to silence her critics would be a bit mild. But more than racist, Mayor Wu’s vaccine mandate is simple classist elitism.
There is a cynical pragmatism to her mandate. If economic activity were evenly distributed, excluding 1/3 blacks and Hispanics would be political and economic suicide. But it is not. Boston’s affluent neighborhoods are already ~ 90% vaccinated. Thus, it will be the less well-off who are excluded from these businesses, but perhaps that won’t matter to the bottom line, as they would not have been patronizing them in the first place.
While vaccine mandates may not initially negatively impact the posher places in Boston, they will have an immediate impact on the less fortunate areas. If the least well-off places are the least likely to be vaccinated, this means that businesses in those places will suffer the greatest loss of customers. 41% of Black-owned Boston businesses have already closed due to pandemic policies—more than twice the national rate of business closures. These vaccine mandates will deliver yet one more blow, as Segun Idowu, Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion notes: “It’s tough but it’s going to hurt businesses though. That’s a fact because I know a lot of people that are not vaccinated.” What’s more, as business owners in these areas seek to enforce the mayor’s mandate, they may end up calling upon police to remove non-compliant patrons. This would needlessly increase both interactions between police and members of these communities, and hostilities among them.
Boston has been plagued by a reputation for exclusion and racism based on busing scandals in the 1970’s. In the last several decades, every single cultural institution in Boston has been moving heaven and earth to undo that, prostrating and castigating themselves for sins real, and imagined. Yet now, under some inverted logic, the same—largely white, liberal, affluent—progressives who have been undertaking these Herculean efforts to improve the city’s image, are cheering on laws that will exacerbate every ill they claim to care about, while doing nothing to mitigate disease.
This is how I perceive this new law. I perceive it as useless-to-counter-productive in its putative goal, harmful in its (hopefully) unintended consequences, and motivated by the worst impulses of human nature: fear, ignorance, and self-preservation at the expense of others. I cannot be a party to any entity that would conscience such a law.
My protest will make very little difference, I understand. Boston’s affluent, those who make up the majority of commercial receipts, are largely vaccinated. One affluent person like me choosing not to patronize those establishments will not have much impact on their revenues. However, among this new, self-congratulatory "moral majority," zealously clamoring to exclude the “dirty unvaccinated” from their pristine environs, I hope my protest, and criticism will stand out as an example of another constituency that would gladly support businesses and organizations who would stand up to such discrimination and tyranny.
I hope it is also a reminder to businesses--and the Mayor--of the attitudes outside of Boston. Boston benefits greatly from tourism. This mandate will depress tourism—particularly once it applies to children under 12 on March 1st. Even in hyper-vaxed Massachusetts, fewer than 50% of children under 12 are vaccinated. Fewer than 1/3 double-vaccinated. All of these families will be excluded from our capital. But beyond our borders, the numbers are even smaller. Nationally, just 28% of children 5-11 are vaccinated with one dose, and 19% fully-vaccinated. The families who have chosen not to vaccinate their children will certainly not change their minds based on a desire to visit Boston. Rather, these vaccine mandates--broadly unpopular nationally, and quickly increasing in their unpopularity—will stain Boston’s reputation. The mark it leaves will be of a city blinded by hysterical partisan politics, a city which speaks of social justice, even while it commits gross social injustices. This stain will be far longer-lasting than the scandals of the 70’s, as these infractions are of far greater magnitude. These are shameful policies, and they will bring shame on our city and our state.