Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
This past week, President Joe Biden announced his most forceful effort yet to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. In his new mandate, the president is requiring all federal employees, with limited exceptions, to get vaccinated and all private businesses that employ over 100 people to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing. Despite being to the ire of many who have avoided getting their vaccination, Biden is pushing forward with this initiative, citing that our national patience is “wearing thin” and those who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine “cost all of us.”
Regardless of business owners’ views on the effectiveness and legality of a federal vaccine mandate, the real issue here is the corporations themselves. Businesses shouldn’t need a federal mandate to care about the health and safety of their employees and the markets they serve. For both economic and social purposes, businesses should be taking it upon themselves to encourage public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
With almost 60 percent of the population actively employed, businesses should understand their crucial role in national outreach, which has become an imperative skill in the dissemination of both physical vaccines and the information surrounding them. With a staunchly divided society on whether the vaccine is effective and necessary, businesses should be stepping up to help the American public get over this pandemic and not sitting back while more people lose their lives.
It is the responsibility of these businesses to advance and support the public good, particularly after the sacrifices the public has made since the crisis began to support businesses. We opened our states and businesses too early in the summers of both 2020 and 2021 to allow for a large summer tourist boom — an expense that was paid for with the health of citizens and frontline health care workers. In addition, Congress provided businesses $2.3 trillion as a part of their pandemic response in early 2020, which was more than half of the entire package.
It’s clear that American citizens took the back seat in order to save America’s businesses from totally collapsing in the wake of COVID-19, so it’s safe to ask what these businesses can do for the American public. The foremost response to that question would be to seriously value public health and encourage widespread vaccinations — and not simply because of a presidential mandate.
Even if these corporations are not in the business of advancing public health, getting over the pandemic will help the economy as well. A sustained drop in cases would lead to a lightening of restrictions and reopening of markets to pre-pandemic levels worldwide, allowing for more business development and profits. Further, once Americans feel like we’ve truly turned the corner on COVID-19, consumer confidence will be restored to pre-pandemic levels, which will help fill up coffee shops, airplanes and concert venues nationwide — which is exactly what these businesses want.
But business owners don’t even need to examine the benefits that mass vaccinations would have on their markets when they could simply look at how they would positively affect their employees. With a more vaccinated workforce, the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace (and thus the need to quarantine employees) is significantly reduced thanks to the low probability of breakthrough infections. Even in the event of infection, the chances of severe infections requiring hospitalizations are also significantly reduced through vaccination. This would allow for employees to spend less time away from work while recovering, which helps business owners.
By sitting idly while their employees evade vaccines, businesses have indirectly harmed themselves and their own profits, as it’s evident that vaccinations are in the company’s best interests. If businesses (unethically) refuse to work for the public good, why don’t they at least want to work for their own benefit?
It’s safe to say that everyone wants to be out of this pandemic — businesses and citizens alike. It’s also safe to say that we expect everyone to do their part to end this pandemic once and for all. During the largest public health crisis of this generation, the American people and government bailed out businesses and corporations. It’s time they help bail out the American public from this pandemic, too.
Anthony Liberatori is a junior environmental science and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.