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Forget Backstage Passes or VIP Bracelets, Vaccination Cards Are the New Ticket

On Thursday, federal health officials offered the ultimate incentive for many when they advised that fully vaccinated Americans may stop wearing masks.

May 14, 2021 / 06:41 PM IST
Taras Mychalewych, 75, poses for a portrait with his vaccination card after receiving his coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a rural vaccination site in Columbus, New Mexico, U.S., April 16, 2021. (PC-REUTERS/Paul Ratje)

Taras Mychalewych, 75, poses for a portrait with his vaccination card after receiving his coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a rural vaccination site in Columbus, New Mexico, U.S., April 16, 2021. (PC-REUTERS/Paul Ratje)

At Fort Bragg, soldiers who have gotten their coronavirus vaccines can go to a gym where no masks are required, with no limits on who can work out together. Treadmills are on and zipping, unlike those in 13 other gyms where unvaccinated troops can’t use the machines, everyone must mask up and restrictions remain on how many can bench-press at one time.

Inside Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, where lines not long ago snaked for miles with people seeking coronavirus vaccines, a special seating area allows those who are fully inoculated to enjoy games side by side with other fans.

When Bill Dugan reopens Madam’s Organ, his legendary blues bar in Washington, D.C., people will not be allowed in to work, drink or play music unless they can prove they have had their shots. “I have a saxophone player who is among the best in the world. He was in the other day, and I said, ‘Walter, take a good look around because you’re not walking in here again unless you get vaccinated.’”

Removing Masks Becomes the First Bipartisan Activity of Biden’s Washington

Evite and Paperless Post are seeing a big increase in hosts requesting that their guests be vaccinated.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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As the United States nudges against the soft ceiling of those who will willingly take the vaccine, governments, businesses and schools have been extending carrots — actually doughnuts, beers and cheesecake — to prod laggards along. Some have even offered cold hard cash: In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine this week went so far as to say that the state would give five vaccinated people $1 million each as part of a weekly lottery program.

On Thursday, federal health officials offered the ultimate incentive for many when they advised that fully vaccinated Americans may stop wearing masks.

Now, private employers, restaurants and entertainment venues are looking for ways to make those who are vaccinated feel like VIPs, both to protect workers and guests, and to possibly entice those not yet on board.

Come summer, the nation may become increasingly bifurcated between those who are permitted to watch sports, take classes, get their hair cut and eat barbecue with others, and those who are left behind the spike protein curtain.

Access and privilege among the vaccinated may rule for the near future, in public and private spaces.

“The bottom line is this interesting question of the conception of our society,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the architect of a smoking ban and a tuberculosis control program in New York City, both of which included forms of mandates. “Are we in some important way connected or not?”

A vaccine requirement to attend school or participate in the military is not a novel concept. But because the three COVID vaccines offered in the United States have yet to receive full approvals by the Food and Drug Administration, the military has declined to insist on inoculation. For their part, public school districts cannot consider mandates until the vaccines are available to most children. The FDA just granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer this week for children ages 12 to 16.

But even without a mandate, a nudge can feel like a shove. The military has been strongly encouraging vaccines among the troops. Acceptance has been low in some branches, like the Marines, with only 40% having gotten one or more shots. At Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the country and among the first to offer the vaccine, just under 70% have been jabbed.

A podcast designed to knock down misinformation — a common misbelief is that the vaccines affect fertility — plays around the base. In addition to their freedom gym, vaccinated soldiers may now eat in groups as they please, while the unvaccinated look on as they grab their grub and go.

With soldiers, experts “talk up to decliners versus talk down,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman at Fort Bragg.

Still, holdouts pose obstacles. For a recent mission to Europe, a handful of unvaccinated troops had to be replaced with those who had gotten shots, because of quarantine rules in countries there. “What we need to do is restore readiness,” Buccino said.

Segregating the unvaccinated and limiting access to gyms and dining areas were not measures aimed specifically at getting soldiers vaccinated, he said, “but there is an enticement.”

The private sector, sometimes with the encouragement of government, is also trying to make life a bit nicer for the vaccinated, emphasizing the privileges — rather than perceived infringements on freedom — bestowed by the protection of the vaccines.

It’s baseball season, and fans have clamored to get back to normal, to a place where the wave used to mean something other than the next surge of the coronavirus. Major League Baseball is heavily promoting inoculations, and stadiums have become a new line of demarcation, where vaccinated sections are highlighted as perks akin to VIP skyboxes.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced that sporting venues and churches would be able to increase their capacity by adding sections for the vaccinated.

Some businesses — like gyms and restaurants — where the coronavirus was known to spread easily are also embracing a reward system. Even though many gyms have reopened around the country, some still haven’t allowed large classes to resume.

Others are inclined to follow the lead of gyms like Solid Core in Washington, D.C., which seeks proof of inoculation to enroll in classes listed as “Vaccine Required: Full Body.” “Our teams are now actively evaluating where else we think there will be client demand and will be potentially introducing it to other markets in the weeks ahead,” said Bryan Myers, president of the national gym chain, in an email.

The Bayou, a restaurant in Salt Lake City, will open its doors only to those who have had their shots, according to Mark Alston, one of the owners.

“It was entirely driven by the fact that I work at the Bayou seven days a week,” he said. “I do not work from a comfy office and send staff off to work in unsafe conditions, but work there alongside them.”

The “vaxxed-only” policy has flooded his voicemail with rancorous messages. “One in particular accuses us of running some kind of pedophile beer cult,” he said. “It’s a bit unhinged.”

Even private citizens are deploying the practice in their homes. A spokesperson for Evite said 548,420 guests had received online invitations to events mentioning “fully vaccinated” or using other vaccinated-related terms since March 1, 2021, and invitations with the exact term “fully vaccinated” had been sent to 103,507 people. A similar company, Paperless Post, has created specific invitation designs with the inoculated in mind, vaccinated only please RSVP.

(Author: Jennifer Steinhauer)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)
New York Times

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