business news in context, analysis with attitude

The conversation about vaccinations - prompted this week by Kroger's decision to eliminate some Covid-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees - continues, with one MNB reader taking umbrage at my endorsement of the Kroger decision:

I have had about enough of your support for authoritarianism.

If you think that's what I'm supporting, then either you are misreading me or we have profound and perhaps irreconcilable views on what freedom requires of us.

I hope it is the former.  I fear it is the latter.  But it is at least somewhat reassuring that we can continue to have the conversation;  when that becomes impossible, well, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, we will then be living in a world so cold that it wouldn't melt a slice of spumoni.

From another MNB reader:

Perfect example of continuing the narrative.  Omnicron.  Fact , the effects of Omnicron are less then Covid.  So why the huge scare? Fact, when viruses mutate, they tend to become less severe. So why the scare?  Over 70% vac rate in the us, and this does not even include the covid survivors who have natural immunity.  So why the scare?  Stop the rhetoric of control and let nature take it’s course.

First, it is Omicron, not Omnicron.  Second, barely more than 60 percent of the total US population is fully vaccinated, and less than a third has received a booster shot.  Third, if I am understanding the public health officials right, what we don't know about Omicron is more than what we do know at this point.

I think that as we go into the winter season, when the infection rate is likely to go up and we try to make sure that our healthcare system doesn't get overwhelmed - something that a lot of doctors are concerned about - it makes sense to be vigilant, if only so we minimize the impact of this variant and are able to go on with our lives.

It seems to me, based on my reading, that as a nation we're a lot better off as we face off against the Omicron variant and other forms of Covid.  We have vaccines and boosters.  We know a lot more about degrees and methods of contagiousness.  We have more medicines that can treat people who have Covid.

But the simple fact seems to be that people who, for whatever reason, are vaccine-resistant, they are far more vulnerable that people who have gotten the shots.  And that vulnerability has societal and economic implications.  Freedom may be another word for nothing left to lose, but we still have a lot to lose if we do not do battle with the pandemic using all the weapons at our disposal.

One MNB reader wrote:

When we talk of freedom, it is regarding the freedom to make your own choices based on your beliefs.  If you don’t believe the vaccine is the way to go then you take that risk upon yourself.  If you have vaxxed up then you have made that choice.  Either way, there is no way that the government should mandate and eliminate your freedom of choose.  That overreach is, what I see as the crux of the matter.  I too live in NY and find it refreshing that certain counties are not following the lead sheep over the fence of mask mandates.  People are finally starting to allow choice and not blindly follow.  Personally, I have vac’d and booster’d up.  If someone else hasn’t, then it is up to them to protect themselves.  Their issue is not my mine.    Regarding Kroger and their directive to charge more for non vac’s eee’s.  A totally a political move.  Imagine the backlash if they charged more for obesity, which BTW is related to 1-5 deaths in the USA.  I see it as a baaaah-d move.

Except that if you don't behave in a responsible way, you aren't just taking the risk upon yourself.  You're potentially enabling spread of the virus and its variants, which affects a lot of other people.

And then, when businesses say, "Okay, make your choice, but there are going to be implications in terms of things like insurance coverage," these same people get all whiney about it.  They want choice, but without any repercussions from the choices they make.

That doesn't sound like an argument for freedom to me.  Sounds a lot more like entitlement.

Yesterday, we pointed out:

"Officials stress that early data shows that individuals who are fully vaccinated and received a booster shot remain largely protected against severe illness and death from Omicron. But they worry about how few Americans have been boosted to date. Over 55 million people in the United States have gotten the additional shots, out of 200 million who are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC."

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

Could it possibly be that 200 million were eventually sold on the idea that vaccines were the end all/be all … now are being told that is basically not true.  This is in context of masks previously being the end all/be all … which of course again are also mandatory many places.  Maybe ‘moving the goal posts’, or the lack of accountability in the first place about the virus origins – is creating doubt.  Simple human nature.  What if we all just became robots … ??

Maybe it is just because I am the product of a Jesuit education, in which I was taught that knowing the questions to ask was at least as important as knowing the answers.  (As distinct from my earlier education from Dominican nuns and Irish Christian Brothers, who taught me that asking questions was the best way to get smacked.). But I never, ever assumed that there was any answer or recommendation from public health officials that would be a be all/end all.  In fact, few public health officials made such claims.  Only some politicians did that.

Responsible health officials did the best they could with the information they had, and they adjusted their recommendations as more information became available.  I was a crappy science student in school, but that much I remember - science is about gathering data, reaching conclusions, challenging conclusions, and adjusting conclusions based on more information.  This is the antithesis of being robotic.  It is, in fact, human.

MNB reader Tim McGuire wrote:

Claiming that employers charging higher healthcare premiums for unvaccinated employees is unfair because they don’t do so for other situations that cause high healthcare costs (examples cited included being overweight, having a drug addiction, or needing sex-change surgery) totally misses the point.  First, the comparisons are ludicrous - your being overweight is clearly a danger to your health, and will likely increase your healthcare costs, but it is not a danger to your co-workers’ health.  Obesity is not contagious - COVID-19 clearly is contagious and transmissible from one employee to another employee (or customer).  If you choose to accept being overweight, you’re risking your own health.  If you choose to be unvaccinated, you’re risking the health of everyone around you.  Why should employers stand by and allow some of their employees to endanger the rest of their employees, customers and communities?

Second, these companies aren’t increasing the premiums to cover higher costs - they’re doing it to encourage people to get vaccinated.  And despite the reader’s claim that people who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet are holding their ground and won’t get vaccinated - “Punishing them will not help convince them to get vaccinated” - real-world evidence shows that is simply wrong.  Countries, states, cities and companies all over the world have shown time and again that requiring vaccinations to participate in public activities - going to restaurants, bars, plane trips, sporting events, colleges and, yes, workplaces leads to increased vaccination rates every single time.  Making their lives less convenient, less fun, less public and less interactive convinces many unvaccinated people it is just not worth the aggravation, so they go get vaccinated.  Not everyone, but many.  And every additional vaccination reduces the risk for all of us.

Just get the damn shot!

From MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman:

Good job on standing firm on vaccines.

I’m guessing the folks who are chiming in against increased health costs and/or mandates for the un-vaxxed probably didn’t have to wear a mask all day, behind plexiglass, dealing with angry and intentionally mean people. Many of us did. Must be nice to be a ‘freedom loving’ exec up in the suites ranting without the slightest notion about everyone’s public health responsibilities.

Thanks for your smart position on this.

I wrote yesterday:

Me, I'd like to be free of people who keep talking about freedom but never talk about mutual responsibility.

To be honest, I had second thoughts about that crack later in the day.  Seemed maybe a little glib.  But I left it up, because it also was an honest reaction.

One MNB reader, however, had no second thoughts:

Your best comment ever!

Another reader felt the same way:

LOVE your comment!!!  CHEERS!!!!

From MNB reader Rich Heiland, a "big picture" commentary:

Interesting discussion in "your views" on Kroger and its vaccine policy. In my opinion it ignores the elephant in the room. Which is, our healthcare system, unique among developed economies, that requires employers to provide health care. I have long advocated for some form of national care, like Medicare for all. In Australia they have that plus private supplements with the added plus that any out-of-pocket expenses are tax deductible. While in Australia for business I had a chance to discuss this with clients and they consider our approach appalling. They are happy not to be in the healthcare business.

Bear with me. Currently in the States many employers lose good employees, who are happy with the job, OK with the wages, because of health care. They will leave to get better coverage. Studies have shown it costs 1.5 times a fully-loaded salary to replace an employee. I tell my clients, many of whom have a conservative bent and oppose any national system, that they are suffering by being made to provide health care. In Australia, employers do not lose employees because of health care. Any additional taxes they pay to help support a national system in my opinion will be much less than the costs of being forced to be "the healthcare system."

If a client wants to oppose a national system because they believe in less government, well, OK. But don't try to tell me it makes business sense because it does not.

And finally, MNB reader Julielynn Covar noted that yesterday, one MNB reader wrote:

"When they start mandating and adhering to the same rules they want for the American people, for themselves and all the illegal immigrants coming into this country, then maybe I will reconsider my position.  This is America.  The best Country in the World.  A Free Country (for now).”

And she responds:

Are we the best country, though?  Really?  Our criminal justice system is deeply flawed (and racist), our healthcare system is deeply flawed (and racist and sexist), our educational systems are flawed (and classist and racist and sexist).  We lead the world in gun violence, our infrastructure is crumbling, women rights are crumbling, and a not insignificant number of people aggressively reject science and willingly buy into crazy conspiracy theories. I am not sure “best” is the word.  But that statement (and buying into the insane eliminating cow meat thing, I mean……...) does pretty effectively identify the comment as a regurgitation of ridiculous talking points without any real thought behind it.

Sounds to me like Julielynn is channeling Will McAvoy: