Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

New Data on Delta Emerges as Authorities Issue Vaccine Mandates

New analysis says the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads easily and may cause more severe illness than other variants of the disease, according to internal U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents that were obtained by The Washington Post. 

The documents were part of a slide presentation that “strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold,” according to the Post.

The revelations were shared in the same week that the CDC updated its masking guidance, encouraging even vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors in parts of the United States where the delta variant is spreading. 

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a press briefing. “This is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly.” 

The first delta variant case in the United States was diagnosed in March 2021; it has now become the dominant strain of the virus in the country, and experts are concerned about how it may accelerate the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In a completely unmitigated environment—where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks—it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people,” said Dr. F. Perry Wilson, associate professor at Yale and director of its Clinical and Translational Research Accelerator. “In the same environment, delta would spread from one person to maybe 3.5 or 4 other people.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it expects delta to become the dominant variant across the globe during the next few months. In a report issued on Wednesday, CNBC reported that the “prevalence of delta among the specimens sequenced over the past four weeks exceeded 75 percent in many countries worldwide, including Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.” 

To help mitigate the spread, authorities where vaccines are available are increasingly issuing vaccine mandates to participate in society. France led the way; on Monday its parliament approved a vaccine or negative COVID-19 test mandate for entry to restaurants, travel domestically, and healthcare workers. 

“The law requires all workers in the healthcare sector to start getting vaccinated by September 15, or risk suspension,” NPR reported. “It also requires a ‘health pass’ to enter all restaurants, trains, planes, and some other public venues. It initially applies to all adults, but will apply to everyone 12 and older starting September 30.”

To qualify for a health pass, individuals must be fully vaccinated, have recently received a negative COVID-19 test, or show proof of recent recovery from COVID-19.

In the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that all federal employees and onsite contractors will be required to verify their vaccination status—a decision that impacts more than 4 million people.

“Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel," according to a White House fact sheet.

The rule will also eventually roll out to apply to all contractors—regardless of their onsite status. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will also be looking to add COVID-19 vaccination to its list of required vaccinations for military service members. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that his office is consulting medical professionals on the matter. Just 54 percent of active duty and reserve troops have chosen to receive at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Military Times. 

The private sector is also beginning to implement COVID-19 vaccine requirements for return to work and participation in public life. Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), Facebook, Netflix, and Uber all announced this week that employees will be required—with few exceptions—to be vaccinated to return to their office workspace. 

“We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months,” wrote Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai in a company blog post. “The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area. You’ll get guidance from your local leads about how this will affect you, and we’ll also share more details on an exceptions process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other protected reasons.” 

And just Friday morning, the Broadway League announced that all owners and operators of its 41 New York City theaters will require vaccinations for audience members, crew, performers, and theater staff. Individuals will also be required to wear masks inside the theater. 

The uniform policy “makes it simple for our audiences and should give even more confidence to our guests about how seriously Broadway is taking audience safety,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League.

Vaccine mandates have a long history and are generally considered legal. One of the earliest mandates was issued in 1853 in England to help eradicate smallpox—which killed on average three out of the 10 people who contracted it.

“In the years before mandatory vaccination in England and Wales, there were more than 10 times as many deaths per person than there were in the regions of Italy and Sweden where vaccination was mandatory,” according to a paper published by The Lancet in February 2021. “In German states, mandatory vaccination was introduced in 1874. In the five years before the mandate, smallpox mortality rates were more than 30 times higher than in the five years following the mandatory vaccination law.”

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for approving and licensing vaccinations, and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld states’ rights to require vaccinations.

Schools have played a primary role in ensuring that Americans receive vaccines to prevent disease, beginning in the 1850s when Massachusetts required smallpox vaccinations for pupils. By 1980-1981, all 50 U.S. states had laws that required students to receive vaccinations for certain diseases before entering school. Forty-eight U.S. states currently allow religious exemptions for vaccinations.

Guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Office (EEOC) says that employers can require workers to be vaccinated, as long as the employer makes accommodations for employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Some employers, however, may be hesitant to require COVID-19 vaccinations because the vaccines are currently in use under an emergency authorization by the FDA. Some U.S. state legislatures have also passed bills—or are considering them—that would prevent restrictions on unvaccinated individuals.

“Institutions that have put vaccine requirements in place have already faced lawsuits, with opponents arguing that the statute creating the emergency use authorization indicates people should have the option to refuse a treatment,” NBC News reported. “One such lawsuit by healthcare workers at Houston Methodist was thrown out last month.”