Berkeley should follow San Francisco’s lead on vaccine verification requirements

CITY AFFAIRS: To protect those unable to get vaccinated and to prevent further COVID-19 mutations, restaurants, bars and more must check vaccination status.

Illustration of social area vaccine requirements
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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As the delta variant sweeps through the nation, one would assume local communities such as Berkeley would have learned that the potential for new variants to mutate must be swiftly curtailed. Unlike San Francisco and New York City, however, the city of Berkeley has yet to take an important step in this direction: mandating COVID-19 vaccination for those eligible in order for them to enter indoor spaces and to attend gatherings.

Compared to California’s average vaccination rate of about 65% of eligible residents, 71% of Berkeley’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated. While this is a higher proportion than California’s average, a sizable portion of the community is still unvaccinated, and the potential for more dangerous and contagious COVID-19 mutations to appear is a possibility. After more than a year of putting life on hold, the last thing anybody wants is to lose the momentum we have gained against this pandemic.

By requiring bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms and other large indoor venues to verify the vaccination status of those who are medically able to vaccinate, Berkeley could also provide an impetus for those who remain unvaccinated by choice. This could be especially effective in motivating 18- to 35-year-olds. Despite the vaccine having been publicly available to this age group for nearly five months, this population has the lowest rate of full vaccination in Berkeley — about 55%.

While masks are technically required inside of most indoor locations, this rule can be loosely adhered to in bars and restaurants, making the need for requiring vaccination even more pertinent.

Berkeley must be the next city to take proactive measures against the further spread of COVID-19 variants as the number of local cases once again increases. Those who haven’t yet chosen to be vaccinated likely won’t unless they are given more reasons to do so. The city must provide them with these reasons.

Requiring vaccination is necessary if the city wants to protect those who, due to their age or to their health risks, cannot get vaccinated. Folks who make the personal choice to forgo the vaccine are walking public health risks. The rest of the Berkeley community should feel confident that they, their family and their friends are truly no longer at risk if they resume normal activities. 

Like San Francisco, the city of Berkeley should require proof of full vaccination two weeks after one’s final dose. A negative COVID-19 test should not be accepted in place of this, as false negatives are relatively common depending on the time elapsed since exposure and on the type of test taken.

While San Francisco considers COVID-19 vaccine cards and pictures of vaccine cards acceptable forms of verification, Berkeley should at least consider tightening these restrictions. False vaccination cards are not difficult to obtain. Instead, Berkeley could require state-verified proof. California’s Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record, for example, provides an instant QR code to those who link their name and their phone number or the email address associated with their vaccination record. 

The city must prioritize its residents’ health. Mandating vaccine verification for indoor gatherings is the next sensible step toward putting an end to the pandemic. As Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, said at a news conference, “If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated.”

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.