As cases of the Delta coronavirus variant spread, some US businesses like Walmart and Disney as well as universities are announcing that they will require vaccinations for employees and students. Such policies are supported by the law, says Ross Silverman, a professor of public health and law at Indiana University. Overall, he says, it’s legal to require vaccinations in the midst of an active, dangerous epidemic. In fact, the U.S. has a long history of requiring vaccines to control infectious diseases. In the case of COVID-19, says Silverman, despite the U.S. doing many things to try to encourage and reduce as many barriers as possible to getting vaccinated, we still have a gap in our protection that is causing significant risk to a large part of the population. And the risk isn’t just severe illness and death, Silverman adds, but also the debilitating effects of long COVID, which is estimated to have affected millions of Americans. COVID-19 vaccine requirements can and do have exemptions for medical or religious or ethical reasons, Silverman points out. The question is whether or not granting an exemption would create a severe risk in the work environment. In some cases, Silverman says, workers may choose not to be vaccinated, but that may mean they’re no longer able to work in the same job. As the development of COVID-19 continues to surprise, Silverman says there’s no gold standard for vaccine status to be managed. What’s done for Broadway may look very different from what the NFL does, he says. Silverman says vaccine mandates could cause vaccination rates to increase because of the inconvenience of weekly testing or denied entry into certain settings as the alternative. Basically, he says, vaccination is critical to stopping COVID-19’s spread, and it’s important to make vaccination as easy as possible for people to say yes to.
In other news, Indiana consistently ranks as one of the most polluted states in the country in terms of air and water quality. To help evaluate how Indiana residents might benefit from a mapping tool that highlights Indiana communities overburdened by pollution, a team of IU researchers recently reviewed federal and state environmental justice mapping tools used across the country – the first step towards creating an environmental justice mapping tool for Indiana. Researchers use mapping tools to help identify overburdened communities in the US and inform public conversation and policy aimed at addressing longstanding environmental and heath inequities. IU professor David Konisky says an environmental justice mapping tool could help government officials at the state and local levels, the public, researchers and advocacy groups get a better understanding of where environmentally just communities are in the state and the connections between race, ethnicity, poverty, and environmental and health burdens. The IU researchers have reviewed 19 online tools that combine geospatial data with demographic, environmental, and health information to spotlight communities subjected to environmental contamination. Konisky says the tools that combine demographic information with environmental and health indicators are really powerful, because they allow users to put information together in an accessible way, and that’s what environmental justice is all about. Konisky says it’s important that these maps are closely aligned with how communities view themselves, which requires that communities are involved in their development from the outset.