With the rollout of vaccines in the United States and with tens of millions of people vaccinated, there may be a sense that the pandemic is a thing of the past. This sense is one that is harbored by both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. This idea that the pandemic has come to an end is, of course, untrue. The United States, like the rest of the world, is still in a pandemic. According to data reported by the New York Times, America is still rocked by an average of about 146,000 new COVID-19 cases every day. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that about 750,868 people will have died from COVID-19 related complications by Dec. 1. The fact is that people have not stopped getting infected and people have not stopped dying from COVID-19.

The entire country was starkly reminded last week on Thursday that we are still in a pandemic when President Joe Biden announced a new vaccine mandate. The White House has given all federal employees and contractors 75 days to get vaccinated. All companies with a hundred or more workers or those that work with the federal government need to ensure that all their employees are either vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 at least once a week. This decision marks, perhaps, one of the greatest pushes by the government to increase the vaccination rates of Americans. Biden’s decision was not well received by several people, most notably Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. DeSantis went as far as threatening to take legal action to fight this new vaccine mandate, which he believes is unconstitutional. 

However, the decision comes after many democratic countries, such as Turkey, Germany and France, instated vaccine mandates to improve vaccination rates. From a legal standpoint, a vaccine mandate for people using federal property may be legal. The Public Health Services Act grants the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to impose measures that are geared towards preventing the spread of communicable diseases on federal property. Through the Secretary, the president could have the legal authority to impose regulations such as a vaccine mandate for federal employees. The vaccine is a measure that has been proven to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and thus falls under the authorities granted to the secretary. The White House could not impose a universal vaccine mandate, but they certainly could impose a mandate for people who use federal property within existing laws. The data clearly suggests that the vaccine achieves the goal set in the Public Health Services Act — preventing the spread of a communicable disease.

A lot of the rhetoric surrounding the spread of COVID-19 at this stage of the pandemic has been centered around separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. The idea is to help people understand that getting everyone vaccinated is an important part of beating this virus and eventually ending most of the risks that this pandemic poses. It is very easy to point fingers at anti-vaxxers and blame them for the continued spread of COVID-19, yet there is another very serious danger that stands in the way of making progress toward fighting this pandemic. That danger is people’s tendency to believe that once they have received the vaccine, they no longer need to worry about COVID-19. We are seeing this play out on the Brandeis campus, which fortunately has more than 97.1% of its staff and 94.9% of students vaccinated, according to the Brandeis COVID-19 Dashboard. We are seeing students no longer walking around with masks “at the ready,” some people walking past the sanitizing kit at the Hoot Market like it does not exist, while some other people have deemed it fit to host unapproved events in small rooms. All the while we have students in isolation in 567 South Street and an expected but still concerning rate of breakthrough COVID-19 cases affecting vaccinated individuals. It is clear, as public health experts have always been saying, that no vaccine gives full immunity, but we are not acting like we understand this.

The fact is that there are two components of this puzzle to ending the pandemic: the first being to get as many people as possible vaccinated, and the second being to ensure that everyone, including the vaccinated, remain aware that we are all still vulnerable to COVID-19. There is no getting away from this anytime soon; we need to do our very best to avoid contact with the virus regardless of our vaccination status. To forget the presence of COVID-19 in our community is a danger. It is bound to discourage everyone else around us from following the proper guidelines, exposing each one of us to contracting COVID-19. Public health experts have reiterated that absolutely no one is immune, regardless of whether or not they are fully vaccinated. Removing your mask, not washing your hands regularly and thoughtlessly engaging in acts that increase the chances of transmission has an effect that is perhaps not as great but similar to refusing to take the vaccine.