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Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik: Responsible public health policy
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Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik: Responsible public health policy

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

COVID-19 is right now the eighth-most deadly pandemic in the history of the world. With 4.3 million fatalities, and counting, it will soon jump past the Antonine Plague which happened in the second century. What’s the salient difference between each of the other pandemics and COVID? None of them had a vaccine that was effective in stopping the spread of the virus.

In the past week we’ve seen multiple groups, both in the public and in the private sector announce mandatory vaccination policies for their employees. The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Department of Veteran Affairs now require COVID vaccinations for employees in their health-care units. The State of California is requiring vaccinations or weekly testing. The National Medical Association which represents over 50,000 Black physicians is calling for a vaccination mandate. And in the private sector, Google, Facebook, Tyson Foods, Disney, Vanguard and a growing number of other employers are telling workers that in order to reenter the workplace, they must present proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Last week, the Tucson mayor and City Council joined Los Angeles, New York City, New Orleans, Denver and many other cities across the nation in requiring that our employees be vaccinated. The reality is that unvaccinated people are driving transmission of COVID. The delta variant is estimated to be 10 times more contagious than the virus we’ve spent the past 18 months trying to defeat. The longer we wait to require vaccinations, the more likely new variants will emerge. And the more likely it is these new variants will not be responsive to our vaccinations.

Right now over 184 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s just over 50% of the eligible population. But it does not include children under 12 years of age — none of whom are currently eligible for the vaccine. Locally we are witnessing a science experiment that has an easy outcome to predict. Bringing unvaccinated and unmasked children and staff together into closed environments for hours each day with a variant that is deadly, and is more contagious than the eighth-most deadly virus in the history of the world. We should not be surprised that the age of COVID patients in our hospitals is decreasing by the day.

For city workers, consider: one of our EMTs working with a homeless person, sheds the virus and it spreads when that homeless individual reenters a shelter. Or consider: one of our plan reviewers on the Development Services desk meets with a construction project manager, sheds the virus and it spreads when that project manager reenters the construction site. Or consider: one of our police officers interacting with the public at a serious auto accident, sheds the virus and it spreads back into the health-care setting when the traffic victims are admitted for treatment. As city employees we have an obligation to our co-workers, and to the public to take every precaution available to avoid spreading COVID.

During the runup to our vote on mandating vaccinations, the word “liberty” was tossed around by those who object to our policy. Liberty works when your actions don’t directly impinge on the liberties of others. It is appropriate to expect people to sacrifice a personal liberty for the greater good of the community. It’s instructive, and it’s compelling to note that I have not heard the “my liberty” argument from anybody who is immune-compromised, from our hero health-care workers who have spent 18 months working 12 hour shifts in full PPE garb or from the friends or loved ones of the 2,500 Pima County residents who have died due to COVID. Comparisons have been made by the no-vax crowd to the experimental testing conducted by the Nazis during World War II. The only possible comparison is that COVID will soon surpass the 6 million deaths inflicted by Nazi Germany. Beyond that, the analogy is offensive to the core.

We are living through history. When people look back on this time from a historical perspective, knowing that we had vaccines available and yet a significant number of people ignored science and refused to do their part in stopping the spread of the virus, they will rightly wonder “what were they thinking?” We stop a virus by defeating a virus. We have vaccines available that are effective in containing COVID. This is plain and simple a public-health issue. We already require vaccinations to prevent the spread of diseases. When you travel internationally you are required to submit to vaccinations for multiple diseases. The many health-care institutions, cities, private employers, public agencies and the city of Tucson are correct in mandating vaccinations for our workers. It is responsible public-health policy.

Steve Kozachik is a Ward 6 City Council member.

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