Boston’s Impending Vaccine Mandate is Discriminatory, Ineffective, and Harmful

Boston’s Impending Vaccine Mandate is Discriminatory, Ineffective, and Harmful

I’ve lived in Boston for over a decade, in the heart of Downtown, amidst a thriving economy. New construction projects broke ground weekly. New shops, cafes, restaurants were filled with customers. New companies moved into the city, offering an abundance of jobs and opportunity.

Boston is special. The birthplace of the American Revolution, 250 years ago Boston’s residents revolted against unfair government policies which led to famous events like The Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. Bostonians were some of the most important figures in the Revolution – John Adams, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, and more.

Built on a beautiful harbor, Boston is perfectly sized. Walking from the Back Bay to Faneuil Hall takes only 30 minutes; taking the T from Government Center to Fenway only 10 minutes. Boston offers a unique juxtaposition of top universities and white collar opportunities with fisheries, breweries, and blue collar jobs.

Boston’s socioeconomic classes are in symbiosis. Tens of thousands of college students fill the bars at night, and thousands of office workers fill cafes and restaurants throughout the week. Tourists from all over the world descend on Faneuil Hall and Newbury Street. High-end restaurants purchase fresh fish, lobster, oysters. Bostonians thrive together.

But in the last two years, Boston has been pushed to its limits. Where I live, in the Financial District, around half the retail stores are closed. Office employees are now working remotely, and tourists are no longer able to travel. Downtown is desolate.

To date, COVID mandates have been confusing and largely ineffective. Lockdowns disproportionately harmed smaller businesses. Mask mandates, which were discontinued and then reinstated, amusingly require that we wear masks when entering a restaurant but then remove them while seated. Some businesses still have tape on the ground, positioned six feet apart, which was supposed to protect us from an airborne virus.

The new COVID vaccines initially appeared highly effective and seemed like a viable way to end the pandemic – get more people vaccinated, stop the spread, reach heard immunity, and put COVID in the rear view mirror.

But now it's clear that higher vaccination rates are just leading to unprecedented "breakthrough" cases; there is no end in sight. Unlike what we were told by Fauci, Biden, and the CDC, the vaccinated can still get and spread the virus. COVID will likely be endemic.

Take New York City, for example, which has seen huge spikes in cases in the last month – even though it’s 73% fully vaccinated and has had a vaccine mandate in effect since September.

If a vaccine mandate is not ending the pandemic in New York City, then why do we think it will work in Boston?

Boston’s December 17 COVID report notes that 68.4% of residents were fully vaccinated. Three days later, Mayor Wu announced her vaccine mandate. We would expect that, since then, there has been a large increase in vaccinations…right?

Of course not. Boston’s January 7 report – only a week away from Mayor Wu’s mandate taking effect – shows that Boston is only 69.3%  fully vaccinated. Not even a 1% increase!

But I am feeling generous, so let’s consider the data for residents who have received at least one dose. December 17: 78.8%. January 7: 80.7%. A whopping 1.9%!

Even if we assume that all partially vaccinated residents will become fully vaccinated, then about 20% of the entire Boston population is unvaccinated only a week before Mayor Wu’s mandate takes effect. This means that one out of every five Bostonians will not be allowed to go out to dinner, sit in a cafe, go to the gym, see a concert, visit a museum, or attend a sports game.

And even worse – we can estimate that one out of every five employees at these establishments will lose their jobs in one week.

This seems insane, but it’s actually happening. But it gets much worse if we look at the demographic breakdown.

This chart clearly shows that Boston’s Asian population is skewing the data upward; the granular data shows that Mayor Wu’s upcoming vaccine mandate disproportionally impacts minorities:

  • Hispanic: 30.5% unvaccinated
  • Black: 34.1% unvaccinated
  • American Indian / Alaskan Native: 51% unvaccinated

Mayor Wu's mandate will ostracize the unvaccinated from city life and cause significant job loss and economic harm. All while Boston is already suffering, the city is desolate, companies are facing staffing shortages, and small businesses that have barely survived the pandemic are teetering.

How will restaurants continue to operate if 30% of their staff must be fired, if 20% of their customers disappear? What about gyms? Cafes?

And have we considered the logistics of enforcement? Just today I chatted with the manager of a downtown coffee shop, who told me they are forced to hire full-time security guards to man the two doors at all times and force customers to show their papers (I mean, vax cards). Are we expecting baristas, hosts, front-desk workers to enforce this? Businesses are already stretched so thin.

Mayor Wu’s vaccine mandate may cause permanent harm to the city and its residents. Even worse, I cannot fathom how we are about to disproportionately inflict such harm on Boston’s minority communities.

Even the details of Mayor Wu’s mandate are nonsensical. Her B Together plan – which, by the way, is a blatant euphemism – doesn’t even allow residents to show IDs with vaccine cards. So I could quite easily download a picture from Google and get into any establishment. Look how easy it is, it took me two seconds to find a good one!

Mayor Wu’s mandate also has no medical or religious exemption, for customers or employees. This is sickening. If I had an adverse reaction to the vaccine, for example, and was told by my doctor I shouldn’t get the second dose, I could still be fired from my restaurant job. This is the current language in Mayor Wu’s FAQ:

If a customer requests an exemption from the vaccine requirement due to a disability, medical condition, or another civil rights-related reason, businesses should not ask for documentation to support this request. Instead, businesses should engage in a cooperative dialogue to find an alternative means of service, such as providing takeout rather than dine-in service. A business does not have to provide such an accommodation if doing so would create a direct threat for other customers or employees of the business, including through risk of COVID-19 infection, or impose an undue hardship on the business.

The original language was even worse (luckily I found an archive), and classified simple contact with an unvaccinated individual as a “direct threat.” This shook me to my core.

If a customer requests an exemption from the vaccine requirement due to a disability, engage with them in a cooperative dialogue to see if a reasonable accommodation is possible. A business does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so would create a direct threat (including contact with an unvaccinated individual) for other customers or employees of the business, or impose an undue hardship on the business.

Mayor Wu’s mandate does not allow for weekly testing as an alternative to vaccination for employees. Even OSHA’s proposed mandate allows for weekly testing! This is further nonsensical because vaccinated people and unvaccinated people can both equally spread COVID – we all know people who have been vaccinated but still caught and spread COVID. I am one of them.

I would even argue that, by implying that vaccinated individuals cannot spread COVID, Mayor Wu’s mandate will further prolong the pandemic, and the city will be ravaged by breakthrough cases – as has been the case in New York City and in all highly vaccinated areas across the world.

So, what should we do? If Mayor Wu does not cancel her mandate, then I suggest that we resist. Amusingly, there are no clear consequences for businesses that refuse to comply. As per the FAQ:

Once the COVID-19 vaccine requirement takes effect on January 15, inspectors will make checks for compliance. Businesses who are found not in compliance will receive a warning. If businesses continue not to comply, they may be fined or face other enforcement action.

So if you are a business owner, you may want to check with your lawyer and discuss the pros and cons of not complying.

If you are a customer, at minimum you should express your disapproval of the mandate, and engage with the owner of the business. This is what I’ve begun to do.

Sadly, my fiancé and I are also considering moving out of Boston, and have been looking at homes in New Hampshire (and we are among many). While we are both vaccinated, we are sickened by the idea of having to show our papers everywhere we go and comply with yet another ineffective COVID mandate that will further damage the city we love. It’s heart wrenching.

But at the same time, being forced to show our papers – in the very city that was the birthplace of the American revolution – will be even more heart wrenching.

We cannot imagine living like that, because we wouldn't be living at all.