Guest Opinion: Public officials must take action to confront delta surge

Kevin Baumlin
Your Turn

Now that we have full FDA approval, I'm calling on all candidates for the U.S. Senate to join me and call for a federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccine for everyone in the U.S. ages 12 and over. It's the right thing to do as leaders for our people, our health and our economy.

A doctor in protective gear holding a COVID vaccine vial and giving a thumbs up sign.

None of the front-runners for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania have done this. None of them even mention COVID on their websites. As a professor and former chair of Emergency Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital and a candidate for U.S. Senate, I think this feels like an egregious and dangerous mistake.

More than 30% of Pennsylvanians haven’t received their first shot yet. Worldwide more than 65% of the population has yet to receive a single jab. And I just got my third.

I felt guilty and privileged when I got my COVID-19 vaccine booster. Like many Pennsylvanians, I am immunocompromised, so this was the right thing to do for my health and for those around me. But I remain concerned that more needs to be done here in Pennsylvania and around the world.

When I was the chair of Emergency Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, we cared for 45,000 patients per year. Many of our patients were older, confused by vaccine disinformation and unvaccinated. 

When our patients wanted the vaccine, we couldn’t get the vaccine in our emergency room to administer to them. Our public officials should have done better for the communities we served, especially for our Black, brown and elderly patients who were hit hardest by the pandemic.

That’s why I spent time on the weekends administering vaccine shots in West Philadelphia to many of the people in the communities that we served daily in the emergency room. 

While I could help save lives by giving shots, an individual action like that wouldn’t stop the pandemic or drive systemic change. 

That is why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to make a real impact on behalf of the underserved communities that I have cared for 30 years as an emergency physician.

Now COVID-19 cases are surging in Pennsylvania, increasing more than 1,500% since July 7. And our kids are going back to school in the middle of this surge. Many of them are unvaccinated and/or immunocompromised like me.

It’s time for our public officials to stop being cautious and start taking aggressive actions to end the pandemic once and for all. 

Until the pandemic is over, it will continue to drive outcomes in our economy, in health care and our schools. The COVID-19 pandemic created the greatest recession since World War II and the United States economy is still down 8% from the start of the pandemic in March of 2020.

Yet the two Democratic front-runners in the race for Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, are being cautious when it will take action to beat COVID-19, in my opinion. We cannot let their poll-tested messages drive our public health policy. 

The clearest example of this lack of priority on the pandemic is that neither of their campaigns highlights “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” on their campaign websites. Similarly, neither mentioned the pandemic in their campaign launch videos.

To save lives and continue to build back our economy, we have to get the virus under control. Vaccines are the only tool that can do that. New mask mandates outside of schools are not the answer.

The Philadelphia School District vote to mandate vaccines for all staff was a good and bold step, now it is time for federal, state and local vaccine mandates for everyone in the U.S. over the age of 12. It’s also high time to hold corporations and individuals accountable for the spread of vaccine disinformation that has held back vaccination rates across the nation.

Dr. Kevin Baumlin is a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. He has been a physician for 30 years, most recently serving as chair of Emergency Medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital. He lives in Philadelphia with his husband, Patrick, and their boxer, Duke.