Vote to not continue vaccine mandates was a grave mistake
The Nevada State Medical Association (NSMA) was disheartened, and quite frankly, disappointed to see the results of the recent vote that would have continued vaccine mandates for students enrolled in Nevada’s System of Higher Education (NSHE) and state health and correction officers. The COVID vaccines are vital to combat the pandemic, but they only work if more people are vaccinated. Eliminating the emergency mandates implemented by the Nevada Board of Health in August is a step backward in our fight against COVID and in our return to normalcy.
The COVID vaccines are safe and effective at reducing severe disease, hospitalizations, and death — and help mitigate transmission of the virus. While we see breakthrough cases, the vaccines tilt the odds in our favor. Our NSMA physicians all have somber and frustrating stories of unvaccinated Nevadans in our emergency rooms and hospital intensive care units when a shot could have prevented their severe and sometimes fatal illnesses.
While younger people have less mortality from COVID than older people, some younger people who contract COVID will suffer long-term health problems. We can all agree college students benefit from being in the classrooms with their professors and peers. To successfully accomplish that, vaccines are critical. The vast majority of colleges and universities around the country have implemented vaccine mandates for their students. With the emergence of the Omicron variant, many are beginning to mandate boosters. Unfortunately, once again, Nevada lags behind other states with our public health measures.
Because of the importance of vaccines, during the 2021 NSMA annual meeting, NSMA delegates passed the following resolution:
THE NSMA SUPPORTS MANDATORY COVID-19 VACCINATION POLICIES FOR STUDENTS AND FACULTY IN THE NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND PRIVATE COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES IN NEVADA, UNLESS A MEDICAL OR RELIGIOUS EXCEPTION APPLIES.
With regards to the prison system, while there has been headway made in getting correctional officers vaccinated, to date, only about 76 percent have been vaccinated. Many correctional officers were vaccinated due to the emergency mandate, as previous rates were less than 50 percent. Nevada’s prison system has already seen 49 prisoners and three corrections officers die from COVID, which can only enter a correctional facility through visitors, new admissions, or corrections staff. While a different population, a recent study demonstrated that nursing homes and chronic care facilities with higher vaccination rates in the staff had lower death rates in the residents. Getting correctional staff vaccinated will help protect their health and the health of the prisoners.
In August, the Nevada Board of Health unanimously passed the emergency resolution mandating vaccines. It was shocking to see the legislative commission, on a partisan vote, reverse these policies favored by our public health officials and physicians. While a COVID vaccine mandate could be readdressed in the future, with the current Omicron outbreak hitting Nevada, time is of the essence. Our Nevada physicians have been on the front lines of the pandemic and have been working tirelessly to keep Nevadans healthy. Republican members of the Legislative Commission had an opportunity to help us in these efforts and improve the health of Nevadans. This opportunity to get more people vaccinated while Omicron is hitting Nevada is now sadly gone. We must do better.
Andrew Pasternak, M.D., M.S., is president of the Nevada State Medical Association. Staci McHale, M.D., is president of the Clark County Medical Society. Shaina Richardson, M.D., is president of the Washoe County Medical Society.