Omicron hurts Biden vaccine mandate efforts

The rapidly spreading omicron variant poses a problem for the White House as officials try to convince a skeptical public that vaccine mandates are necessary.

Opponents of mandates are seizing on early evidence that shows vaccines are not as effective at stopping transmission of the new strain, which they say undermines the administration’s key arguments for championing them.

Many U.S. airlines require their employees to be fully vaccinated, and anti-mandate groups claimed that hundreds of otherwise-healthy crew members were sidelined, unable to help alleviate the worst of the shortages because of their vaccination status.

Administration officials have cast vaccine mandates for health workers, and mandate-or-test requirements for large employers, as essential tools to get more people vaccinated.

While vaccines don’t necessarily keep someone from getting COVID-19, they greatly reduce the chances of hospitalization or death. If the mandates result in more people getting vaccinated, it could also reduce stress on the nation’s healthcare system if waves of people do get infected.

More than 85 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but overall close to 40 percent of all Americans remain unvaccinated.

Part of the problem: Inconsistent and sometimes fatalistic messaging from the administration.

If people are under the impression that they’re going to get COVID-19 no matter what, that will make selling mandates much more politically difficult. Also, new guidance on isolation from the CDC treats vaccinated and unvaccinated people the same, and doesn’t recommend a negative COVID test. Experts said that makes it harder to convince people the benefits of getting vaccinated, and that mandates can keep you safe.