Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to expand vaccine mandates to young children is too hasty, unnecessarily coercive, and impractical. The policy, which expands on Hizzoner's prior rule, forces private companies to require that employees be fully vaccinated to work in offices. It changes the definition of fully vaccinated from requiring one shot to requiring two. And—inspiring perhaps the most ire of all—it forces parents to vaccinate children ages 5–11 if they want to bring the kids to any indoor restaurant, fitness center, or entertainment venue. The mandate for private employees and the definitional change for what counts as vaccinated will go into effect on December 27. The mandate for kids takes effect on December 14.
"I just have a feeling of resentment, of being coerced by a unilateral mandate by an outgoing mayor who has his own political ambitions," says Lisa, a Manhattan mom who had planned on doing Broadway shows and museum trips with her two kids (ages 5 and 7) this winter. "My family has always been fully vaccinated and all my kids have had their childhood vaccines on time as scheduled. Myself and my husband are also fully vaccinated for COVID and we have been since early April," she adds, describing herself as firmly in the wait-and-see camp with regard to vaccines for kids. (Lisa asked that her last name be withheld for fear of retribution.)
"With that EUA [emergency use authorization] designation, there was only three months of a trial period and 3,000 participants in the trial," Lisa says. "So to compare the COVID-19 vaccines to other childhood vaccines…I don't think it's accurate." She notes that the vaccine for polio was tested on 1 million kids over a decade, and that the two harm kids to extraordinarily different degrees. "Polio was a deadly disease that was seriously affecting more children…COVID doesn't present as seriously or as deadly for children."
She's right about that. Fewer than 700 COVID deaths have been reported among kids nationwide since the start of the pandemic, with 146 deaths for this younger age band.
De Blasio's mandate will be passed down just in time for the colder winter months, effectively prohibiting families with unvaccinated little ones from participating in normal city life. But it's not just that it will make it impossible for some families to go out together; such extracurriculars as sports, orchestra, and dance have been instructed to require that kids in this age group be vaccinated or else be thrown out of their after-school activities—those same ones they took an involuntary, collective hiatus from for much of 2020.
Eli Klein, who owns an eponymous art gallery specializing in contemporary Chinese art in the West Village, tells Reason he's worried about the rule's effect on travelers. "Most of its effect on my gallery will be the decrease in NYC tourism," he says. "Kids can't be vaccinated in most of the world and many don't want to vaccinate their kids for COVID yet. Those families will go elsewhere."
"We dine out on a regular basis. This will definitely change our behavior," says Yiatin Chu, who lives in Manhattan with her 10-year-old daughter but spends a lot of time in Queens with her family, typically dining out three times per weekend. Although Chu got her own COVID vaccines as soon as she was eligible, she's in the wait-and-see camp since "children have a really small risk of being seriously sick."
"I want to always weigh the risk and the benefit of doing anything, and to me, the risk is very, very small so I don't see that much of an upside to jump at a vaccine that is still for emergency use for this age group," she says, noting that her daughter has received all other childhood vaccines.
Enforcement of de Blasio's mandate, which he frames as a way of avoiding cold weather-month lockdowns, will be logistically fraught; most children don't carry photo IDs that can be paired with their vaccination card to verify identity. A policy like this one could also end up having a racially discriminatory impact; only 24 percent of New York kids aged 5–17 who are black are vaccinated, and only 15 percent of the total pool of vaccinated kids are between the ages of 5 and 12. If black families' choices are in any way similar to citywide choices about vaccination, we could extrapolate that roughly 7 percent of black kids between the ages of 5 and 12 within the five boroughs are currently fully vaccinated (the number may even be smaller since black residents have lower vaccination rates than other racial groups). "Let's think of the equity implications of that," says Lisa, who mentions that black New Yorker kids are less vaccinated on average than their white counterparts. Instead of bending the knee and letting the state make health decisions for their family, "we're gonna be changing how we patronize restaurants," says Chu, who jokes that it's time to invest in better cookware.
What de Blasio calls "pre-emptive strikes" against the virus present a false choice between coercive government orders to get vaccinated and coercive government orders that businesses lock down again, neither of which are plausibly needed given that 90 percent of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose of vaccine, with the citywide death rate plummeting for those who opt to get vaccinated (and overall). It's as if de Blasio wants to be seen as presenting residents with carrots, not sticks, when in reality both mandates and lockdown orders are sticks—sticks applied to precisely the demographic group the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned policy makers to be careful with: kids.
Lisa points to the fact that Finland and the U.K. have both decided not to vaccinate the youngest age groups for now, noting that our own FDA "gave that emergency use authorization to 5- to 11-year-olds specifically saying that they did not want to see widespread vaccine mandates for children."
"Here we are having de Blasio turn around and doing exactly what the panel feared would be done," she says. "I don't want to feel like my kids are gonna be the guinea pigs."
De Blasio already tried to bully the unvaccinated into getting jabbed back in August, creating a de facto category of second-class citizens barred from engaging in normal city life. Few foresaw that he'd once again brazenly wield his power to create a new underclass composed, oddly, of the tiny humans threatened least by the virus.