The willingness of some workers to give up their livelihoods helps explain the country’s struggle to contain the pandemic.
Under the threat of losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers finally got a Covid-19 vaccine. Teachers, nurses and home health aides accepted their occupations’ mandates. The mass resignations some experts had predicted did not occur, as most workers hurriedly got inoculated.
Josephine Valdez, 30, a public school paraprofessional from the Bronx, did not.
Failing to meet the New York City Education Department’s vaccination deadline, Ms. Valdez lost her job this month. She is among the 4 percent of the city’s roughly 150,000 public school employees who did not comply with the order.
She is also part of a sizable, unwavering contingent across the United States whose resistance to the vaccines have won out over paychecks, or who have given up careers entirely.
This month, Washington State University fired its top football coach and several other members of the team’s staff after they refused to get vaccinated. In Massachusetts, where a state mandate took effect this past week, at least 150 state police officers resigned or filed paperwork signaling plans to do so.
Their resistance goes against reams of scientific data showing that the Covid-19 vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective and have reduced hospitalizations and deaths.
To public health officials, and the majority of Americans, the defiance is unreasonable and incomprehensible. Who would jeopardize their families’ financial security over a shot that has been proven safe and effective at preventing death?
That is not the way the holdouts see it. In interviews, New Yorkers who have given up their livelihoods spoke of their opposition to the vaccines as rooted in fear or in a deeply held conviction — resistance to vaccination as a principle to live by, one they put above any health, job or financial consideration.
It is this alternative worldview, resistant to carrot or stick, that helps explain why 21 percent of eligible adults in the country have not gotten a single vaccine dose, threatening a nationwide goal of containing the pandemic.
The mandates, which many resisters balk at as unheard-of government overreach, are similar to those that have been instituted in the past for schoolchildren for diseases like polio, mumps and measles.
And the mandates appear to be working. About 84 percent of adult New Yorkers have now received at least one vaccine dose in the face of state and city mandates, as well as requirements imposed by some private companies.
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that nearly all 300,000 of the city’s employees would have to get a first shot by Nov. 1. The order puts pressure on New York City’s approximately 46,000 municipal employees who have not yet done so.
Those who are holding out cite different reasons for their choice: The vaccines are too new, too risky, pumped out too quickly, some said. Others cited their religious faith. Many, citing what they say are American values of independence, refused in part because they objected to being forced.
Still, misinformation has been powerful, and fear and doubt have hardened into obstinacy for many of the vaccine refusers.
As Ms. Valdez packed up her classroom on her final day, Oct. 1, her students became distressed, she recalled.
“The kids, they were telling me not to leave, to just go get the vaccine,” said Ms. Valdez, who has moved back in with her parents. “I had to explain to them, the government doesn’t own my body.”