Denver is going all in on vaccines, and all I can say is it’s about time that someone is. Mayor Michael Hancock’s decision to order vaccines by Sept. 30 for all city workers and also for private-sector employees working on the front lines — like those in hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, jails, nursing homes, etc. — is sure to be controversial, but it’s also the right decision.

Apparently no major city in America has gone quite this far. And it’s certainly a lot further than Joe Biden and Jared Polis were willing to go, relying instead on a mandate that government employees must either be vaccinated or face being tested regularly and forced to wear a mask at work. I was happy to see Polis go that far. But now we see what can actually be done.

The either-or message is a prod, of course, but Denver’s policy is more like a cattle prod. People can lose their jobs if they don’t comply. When I asked Hancock about the issue of resisting employees getting fired, he said, “Compliance is the issue. Firing people doesn’t help the city. We’re going to work with all our employees, but I assume it will still come down to that in some cases. I’m not going to fire anyone. They’re going to fire themselves.”

Mike Littwin

Hancock said Denver had no choice but to move on, even without the suburbs, which have often moved in lockstep with Denver on COVID issues, as the ultra-contagious delta variant takes hold.

“We’ve tried everything,” Hancock said. “We’ve tried masks. We’ve tried social distancing. We had to do something more. After I got the recommendation from Public Health, I called mayors across the country, and they’re taking various steps. Obviously, what we needed to do is what will help Denver. … My hope is that the suburbs will join in. We tried to get them. We know that Denver is the destination point and we need to have metro partnership for this to work.”

Cases are spiking across the country, including in Colorado, due to the delta variant. And as Polis says, “We expect it to get worse before it gets better.” It will, if history is a guide, get worse in the winter months. That’s why there’s such urgency again now. Even in those red states where vaccination rates are disturbingly low and new cases disturbingly high, we’re seeing some progress on vaccines. More companies are now requiring vaccines. It’s getting harder to deny what’s in front of our faces. And if not enough people get vaccinated — Polis says Colorado needs to hit 80% — the delta variant will hit even harder, and there’s the matter of whether there be new mutations.

In Denver, where there is a relatively high rate of vaccinations, the numbers have been flattening out, which led to the call for action. Denver public health director Bob McDonald noted in a briefing Monday, “We need to make sure we’re ahead of this so that we don’t see another spike in deaths going into the fall.”

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It looks as if Denver public schools, which have been slow to the mark, finally got it right, requiring students, teachers, staff and visitors — regardless of their vaccination status — to be masked inside schools. That makes obvious sense, with kids under 12 not yet eligible for the vaccine and less than half of teenagers having been vaccinated. The decision comes just a day after Hancock included teachers in his vaccination order. 

In New York City, where the mayor, Bill De Blasio, has been mask-mandate hesitant, people will soon be required to show proof of vaccination in order to eat inside a restaurant, go to a Broadway show or go to a gym. This is based on the health-vaccine model being put in place in France and Italy. Since the announcement in France, thousands have taken to the streets in protest, but millions have signed up to be vaccinated. I’d say that’s a fair trade off. 

As I’ve been typing until my fingers are sore, the surest route to normalcy — which seemed to be almost in our collective grasp not so long ago — is in getting the vaccine. Don’t overthink the stories about the “breakthrough cases.” The Kaiser Family Foundation found that less than 1% of cases are breakthrough — meaning those cases in which the fully immunized are still being hit by the virus.

As you may have heard, Lindsey Graham is among the fully vaccinated people to have been infected by the virus, but his relatively mild condition, he believes, would be far worse if hadn’t gotten his shots. That’s the right point to make, the correct message to send out, for a politician or anyone else. 

According to the early studies, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still highly effective against the delta variant — although not quite as effective as they were  in protecting against earlier versions of the virus — but, more to the point, still prevent serious illness in all but a very few cases.  The CDC has now made clear that when there is a breakthrough, which is likely to be asymptomatic, the viral load can still be transmitted to the unvaccinated. 

Let’s see if we can break down these bits of news. Oh yeah, get the freaking vaccine.

We know there will always be anti-vaxxers. There have been anti-vaxxers from the time of the first vaccines.

One of my favorite stories from long-ago, pre-vaccine days comes from the Italian city-state of Siena in the times of the plague. Sienna was a fairly liberal city, at least as the Middle Ages go, but when the plague hit, the local bishop called for the city’s statues of Roman gods to be smashed. And in one of the early cases of biological warfare, a group of Siena citizens took pieces of the smashed statues and snuck them under the walls of their archrival Florence. 

But we’re many years and many miles and many scientific breakthroughs from the Middle Ages, right? Right? Yeah, probably, unless you live in, say, Florida, where the virus is out of control and the governor says there’s nothing to see there, or maybe Texas, where the governor, going full Trump, is blaming the rapid rise in cases on immigrants crossing the border from Mexico.

It’s easy enough for non-politicians like myself to say that we need to keep politics out of this, that too many have died and too many are still at risk. Politics aren’t going anywhere. But if we can’t leave politics behind at some point, how are we ever going to leave the pandemic behind? 

We’ll see what happens in Denver, where the great majority of people are pro-vaccine. And we’ll see who follows.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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