Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Though Genesis HealthCare is making vaccinations for long-term care workers mandatory, I’m not so foolish as to reveal my own true feelings about the requirement. I fear the warring ghosts of liberty and communal responsibility would visit me late at night, reading hauntingly from the comment section below this post. 

On some issues, I’m more willing to take a public stand. After getting razzed by certain colleagues for accidentally wearing the same shirt twice in the same week, I’ve now been sporting it every day as a protest against the tyranny of superficial fashion expectations. But on the topic of vaccine enforcement, the desire for self-preservation has rendered me necessarily mute and inert.

So instead of taking sides, I would simply ask that as a society we make sure we’ve absolutely explored every possible alternative form of inducement before mandating vaccines. I realize bribery and appeals to selflessness haven’t worked, but perhaps some of the following persuasion techniques deserve one final try:

Stronger words

The decision by the American Hospital Association to “strongly” urge mandatory vaccinations reminds me of the motivating power of vocabulary. We absolutely should not require vaccines until we’ve fully unleashed potent phrases like “earnestly request,” “friendly reminder,” “courtesy call” and “prayerfully consider.” People’s lives are at stake, and we shouldn’t mince words.

Ancient battlefield techniques

In the Battle of Agincourt back in the early 15th century, English archers shot their arrows high into the air in a parabolic storm to rain down on the unprepared French army. We should do the same thing with vaccine-loaded syringes, and a music festival like last weekend’s Lollapalooza would have been a great place to deploy the technique. Many attendees already deny science by not getting vaccinated, so the use of gravity should take them totally by surprise. 

Plausible deniability

Additionally, we could ask Sylvester McMonkey McBean to create a randomized vaccination device similar to the star-on/star-off machines he operationalized in “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss. We would herd every American into the contraption, and after exiting, no one would know whether they had actually received the shot or a placebo. So, they’d be powerless to choose a side, thus easing the divisions between us. 

Old-fashioned revival meetings

Finally, as a last resort, we should hire an old-time preacher in a splashy white suit, pitch a big tent and invite anyone still undecided about the vaccine. “As the Good Book says,” he’ll proclaim, “it is easier for an unvaccinated camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a vaccine-hesitant American to enter a Broadway show.” 

Following this stirring homily, they’ll all sing together, to the tune of that beloved hymn “Blessed Assurance” — “Dreaded recurrence, will COVID be mine?/I spurned vaccination, but now is the time.” Then during the final altar call, when heads are bowed and eyes are closed, ushers will deftly jab them each in the arm while administering a fellowship hug. 

These ideas may seem extreme, but it’s incumbent on all of us to jealously guard our freedoms and not take that final step toward totalitarianism until the last possible moment — and only if and when COVID-19, and the delta variant specifically, ever becomes a real threat and actually starts killing people. 

Experts say that could happen sooner than later, and as Ruth Katz, LeadingAge’s senior vice president of public policy and advocacy has said, “The next few weeks are going to call on all of us… to hold steady with all these skills we’ve sharpened together.” 

Sharpened together? She might be talking about the tips of mandatory needles, but it’s certainly not for me to say.  

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.