Policy Topics

Idaho Governor Brad Little is wrong: Evidence shows vaccine mandates work, and work well

A cou­ple of weeks ago, Ida­ho Gov­er­nor Brad Lit­tle’s press office sent our team at NPI (and oth­er media out­lets) in the Pacif­ic North­west a guest essay sub­mis­sion titled “Biden’s vac­cine man­date is not the solu­tion.” The six hun­dred word piece awk­ward­ly attempt­ed to take a pro-vac­cine, anti-man­date stance, with Lit­tle both attack­ing Biden for try­ing to end the pan­dem­ic while defend­ing his own inaction.

“I have resist­ed putting in place statewide mask man­dates and vac­cine man­dates all along because COVID-19 man­dates from high lev­els of gov­ern­ment do not work to change behav­ior in places where peo­ple hold fierce­ly inde­pen­dent val­ues,” Lit­tle wrote about mid­way through his guest essay submission.

In addi­tion to bash­ing Biden, Lit­tle also crit­i­cized Wash­ing­ton Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee.

“Con­sid­er the State of Wash­ing­ton,” Lit­tle wrote.

“Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee is quick to blame Ida­ho for stress­es in Washington’s health sys­tem yet Spokane Coun­ty and the sur­round­ing area on his side of the bor­der con­tin­ue to be hot spots for virus activ­i­ty with rel­a­tive­ly low vac­ci­na­tion rates, despite Gov­er­nor Inslee issu­ing vac­cine man­dates and mask mandates.”

While it is cer­tain­ly true that Spokane Coun­ty has low­er rates of vac­ci­na­tion than King Coun­ty and oth­er coun­ties west of the Cas­cades, Spokane Coun­ty has a much high­er vac­ci­na­tion rate than north­ern Idaho.

A quick check of the data shows that 57.3% of those ages twelve and up have been ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed in Spokane Coun­ty as of press time.

Mean­while, in neigh­bor­ing Koote­nai Coun­ty, home to Coer d’A­lene, the per­cent­age of peo­ple who are ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed is just 39.92%.

Statewide, 70.7% of peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton ages twelve and up are ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed, as of Octo­ber 4th. In Ida­ho, the fig­ure is much low­er… 52.6%.

Both data and anec­do­tal evi­dence sug­gests that not only are Inslee and Biden’s vac­cine man­dates work­ing, they’re work­ing well, and prod­ding peo­ple who clear­ly were nev­er going to act of their own accord to get vaccinated.

Con­sid­er the fire chief on Vashon Island:

Despite his objec­tions to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s vac­cine man­date, Vashon Island Fire Chief Charles Krim­mert announced last week he received a John­son & John­son coro­n­avirus vaccine.

Krim­mert, sub­ject to Washington’s vac­cine require­ment for health care work­ers — includ­ing fire­fight­ers — request­ed Vashon Island Fire & Res­cue com­mis­sion­ers to change his job descrip­tion last month to stay on as chief with­out being vaccinated.

[…]

Ulti­mate­ly, he said, he got vac­ci­nat­ed due to mul­ti­ple rea­sons includ­ing not want­i­ng to leave the job and lose his salary and pen­sion. “I did not want to leave the Dis­trict in the lurch after putting five years of blood, sweat and tears into the job. … I love doing this job and I want to keep doing it,” he wrote.

And he will get to keep doing it now that he’s been vaccinated.

Mean­while, the data shows that a lot of state employ­ees have recent­ly got­ten a COVID-19 vac­cine. Only 49% were vac­ci­nat­ed as of ear­ly Sep­tem­ber, but the num­ber had risen to 68% as of last week, and it’s undoubt­ed­ly even high­er now.

As Seat­tle Times colum­nist Dan­ny West­neat observed:

The same trend is hap­pen­ing with most every work­place vax man­date. There’s loud resis­tance, some­times chant­i­ng in the streets. Fol­lowed by a very qui­et get­ting with the program.

Exam­ple: Peace­Health hos­pi­tals were among the first to require the shots for their employ­ees, in ear­ly August.

This touched off protests in Belling­ham, with claims that resis­tance inside the hos­pi­tals was fierce and spreading.

What end­ed up happening?

Eigh­teen employ­ees quit rather than get the shots — out of more than 3,200 in PeaceHealth’s What­com Coun­ty sys­tem, accord­ing to a fol­low-up sto­ry in the excel­lent The North­ern Light week­ly newspaper.

The head­line could have been: “99.5% of local health work­ers don’t quit over vac­cine mandate.”

Today comes news that Kaiser Per­ma­nente has sus­pend­ed 2,200 employ­ees nation­wide who would­n’t get vac­ci­nat­ed. Sounds like a lot, right?

Actu­al­ly, no, because Kaiser employed about 216,700 peo­ple as of last year, includ­ing 8,100 in Wash­ing­ton State. 2,200 is just 1% of Kaiser’s workforce.

Over 92% of Kaiser’s employ­ees are now vac­ci­nat­ed, up from 78% in the sum­mer, and the com­pa­ny expects increased com­pli­ance with its man­date as Decem­ber 1st draws near. What’s so spe­cial about Decem­ber 1st? Well, that’s the date that Kaiser will be part­ing ways with sus­pend­ed employ­ees who still refuse to get vac­ci­nat­ed or get approval for a reli­gious or med­ical exemption.

“This num­ber is declin­ing dai­ly, and as employ­ees respond, they may return to work,” Kaiser lead­er­ship point­ed out in a pub­lic statement.

The man­dates are work­ing. For all of the whin­ing and groan­ing and gnash­ing of teeth, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple who weren’t vac­ci­nat­ed before are get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed now. That’s going to be huge­ly ben­e­fi­cial when the hol­i­day sea­son comes and peo­ple gath­er togeth­er indoors to a greater degree.

Gov­er­nor Lit­tle’s offi­cial posi­tion is that peo­ple should “con­sid­er their risk in not receiv­ing the vac­cine.” He is speak­ing, and writ­ing, and act­ing as though most peo­ple are going to think ratio­nal­ly about this pan­dem­ic and make a deci­sion in accor­dance with their self-inter­est. But that is not the case.

We humans are emo­tion­al — not ratio­nal — beings. We use the ratio­nal part of our minds to jus­ti­fy how we feel as opposed to behav­ing ratio­nal­ly by default. Social sci­en­tists have repeat­ed­ly demon­strat­ed this to be true, and yet there con­tin­ues to be a wide­spread belief that peo­ple will act based on their self-interest.

Clear­ly, they aren’t, or oth­er­wise Ida­ho would have high­er vac­ci­na­tion rates.

“Please con­sid­er your risk” is sim­ply not a mes­sage that is going to prompt Ida­hoans to make a good deci­sion about their per­son­al health and well-being. It obvi­ous­ly isn’t work­ing for the Gem State, or else Ida­ho would­n’t have autho­rized hos­pi­tals to begin rationing care on the basis of cri­sis stan­dards.

A lot of peo­ple have already con­clud­ed — based on mis­in­for­ma­tion cir­cu­lat­ing online — that they should not get vac­ci­nat­ed. Too many remain hold­outs despite sto­ries of death and suf­fer­ing in hor­rif­i­cal­ly over­loaded hospitals.

This is why man­dates are need­ed. They force the mat­ter of get­ting vac­ci­nat­ed to come to a head, sep­a­rat­ing those who are total­ly dug in from those who are sim­ply resis­tant. Man­dates are putting an end to dither­ing and pro­cras­ti­na­tion because peo­ple real­ize there will be con­se­quences for their con­tin­ued inaction.

Gov­er­nor Inslee’s pub­lic health ori­ent­ed poli­cies are tak­ing Wash­ing­ton State down one road while Ida­ho (and Alas­ka) go down anoth­er. Because Ida­ho is not doing the work nec­es­sary to sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase inoc­u­la­tions, the stage is being set now for what could be a very bad, mis­er­able win­ter in the Gem State.

Ida­ho Repub­li­cans cer­tain­ly love to talk about indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty. And they love to talk about how “pro-life” they are. But they seem not to appre­ci­ate that those who are suf­fer­ing are not free to enjoy their lib­er­ties. And of course, if you’re dead, you have no life in addi­tion to hav­ing no lib­er­ties. The vac­cines pro­vide, by far, the best pro­tec­tion that is avail­able against COVID-19. Requir­ing vac­ci­na­tions saves lives and keeps fam­i­lies from being fur­ther torn apart.

Gov­er­nor Lit­tle can save many Ida­hoans from a trag­ic fate by join­ing Gov­er­nor Inslee and Pres­i­dent Biden in issu­ing COVID-19 vac­cine mandates.

Andrew Villeneuve

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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