Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Schools, employers and other big institutions will face enormously difficult decisions as they decide whether to mandate coronavirus vaccinations.

The big picture: The U.S. isn’t likely to see sweeping, government-ordered vaccine mandates, but there could be one-off requirements for specific groups of people. And each will have to balance the benefits against the risk of a backlash that could ultimately prolong the pandemic.

Why it matters: At least 75% of the country probably needs to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, and widespread skepticism about the vaccine means there’s a chance we won’t get there.

  • “I don't think the pathway to a fully vaccinated public is through mandatory vaccinations,” Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo said. “I think that would actually backfire.”

Where it stands: The early vaccine rollout has sparked new speculation about some kind of system of “immunity passports” — proving you’ve been vaccinated in order to send your kids to school, go back to work or get on a plane. But that's probably not how it will work, at least in the short term.

  • For starters, experts generally agree that vaccines won’t be mandatory in almost any setting until they receive full FDA approval, which won’t happen until sometime next year.
  • Limited supplies also make mandates untenable: You can’t force someone to get a shot that’s not available to them.

More broadly, many of the institutions that could require proof of vaccination simply may not want to.

  • Businesses that are serving customers today — airlines flying full flights, for example — aren’t likely to start setting up new restrictions, accepting less risk than they’re accepting now.
  • Employers could require their workers to get vaccinated. But that would be highly controversial, and employees can seek exemptions on religious grounds. For now, more big companies are opting to encourage or facilitate voluntary vaccinations.

“There may be situations where proof of vaccination lets you obviate certain other measures” — like long quarantines or frequent testing — “but I am skeptical they would be mandated or should be mandated,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

Yes, but: There are some exceptions to this rule — institutions, most of them private, that may find mandates more appealing.

  • Health care facilities have long required their workers to get other vaccines, including flu shots. Experts agree they’re likely to do so in this case, too, and that they should.
  • Nursing homes might also want to explore mandatory vaccinations, said Ashish Jha, the dean of public health at Brown University.
  • And universities could begin requiring proof of vaccination for students who want to live on campus when classes begin in the fall, Jha said.

The stakes: Each university or nursing home or hospital system that imposes a vaccine mandate is only affecting a small group of similarly situated people. But eventually those small numbers could add up to a significant slice of the country.

  • And the more vaccine mandates are perceived as a major force in American life, some experts fear, the more controversial those policies will become — and by extension, the same will happen to the vaccines themselves.

Public schools — the most familiar source of vaccine mandates, and the biggest battleground for debates over those policies — probably won’t require coronavirus vaccinations any time soon.

  • Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines are authorized for use in children, and they haven’t been tested in children yet.
  • Children are also at low risk for serious illness, making them one of the lowest priorities as long as supplies remain limited.
  • But this could all be revisited by the time the next school year starts in August or September, when more studies will be completed, supplied will likely be ample and vaccines likely will have full FDA approval.

One big question: We still don’t know whether the initial COVID-19 vaccines simply prevent you from getting sick, or actually stop the virus from spreading.

  • If they don’t stop transmission, the case for requiring them is weaker — especially for groups, like children, who are at a low risk of serious infection to begin with, Nuzzo said.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
18 hours ago - Health

Demand for coronavirus vaccines is outstripping supply

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Now that nearly half of the U.S. population could be eligible for coronavirus vaccines, America is facing the problem experts thought we’d have all along: demand for the vaccine is outstripping supply.

Why it matters: The Trump administration’s call for states to open up vaccine access to all Americans 65 and older and adults with pre-existing conditions may have helped massage out some bottlenecks in the distribution process, but it’s also led to a different kind of chaos.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
17 hours ago - Health

Racial disparities already emerging in vaccinations

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Black Americans are being vaccinated at far lower rates than white Americans in the states that collect such information, Kaiser Health News reports.

Why it matters: Communities of color are disproportionately vulnerable to the virus, and the vaccination trend so far is likely perpetuating these disparities.

10 hours ago - Health

Fauci: U.S. could achieve herd immunity by fall if vaccine rollout goes to plan

NIAID director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday that if the coronavirus vaccine rollout by the incoming Biden administration goes as planned, the U.S. could start to see effects of herd immunity and normalcy by early-to-mid fall.

What he's saying: "If we [vaccinate] efficiently in April, May, June, July, August, we should have that degree of protection that could get us back to some form of normality. ... But we've also got to do it on a global scale," he said at a Harvard Business Review virtual event.