Vaccination rates across the country have mostly stalled, even as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads. Joseph Allen, an associate professor and the director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes it’s time for a “wakeup call” and a major shift in strategy for fighting COVID-19.

“The right policy lever is getting people vaccinated,” Allen told Aaron Schachter on GBH’s Morning Edition today. “We've stalled and we need to mandate them now to move that needle further.”

Allen cited some of the large companies that have already taken that step: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Disney.

“These are major companies that see that this is key to them keeping their businesses open, their employees safe, getting their customers back in and keeping them safe,” Allen said, comparing this moment to March of 2020 when the NBA cancelled its season at the very beginning of the pandemic. “Businesses are leading the way. The dominoes are falling on vaccine mandates.”

The proof, according to Allen, that vaccine mandates — not mask mandates — are the best way forward is in the Provincetown outbreak.

“The vaccines work. Yes, there were cases, but most were mild or asymptomatic,” Allen said. “And what would have been a major spread event with lots of hospitalizations and deaths wasn't. So, it's actually a success story.”

Masking for unvaccinated people in high-spread areas is still important, Allen said, but universal masking is an unrealistic policy, given how vaccine messaging has failed in certain parts of the country. Allen called out not just public health leaders, but also influencers who could have taken a harder line when it comes to advocating for the vaccine.

The dominoes are falling on vaccine mandates.
-Joseph Allen, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

“I think my field of public has not been as good as we can be. We failed to reach half the country,” Allen said. “I think athletes and actors have been weak advocates when asked if they’re vaccinated. They say it's a private matter. I think some influence from these so-called influencers would have could save thousands of lives.”

Allen has criticized companies for using the fact that vaccines are only approved for emergency use as a reason to not mandate them. According to Allen, mandates can still stand up to legal scrutiny.

“These are the most thoroughly studied, most highly scrutinized vaccines ever. They’re unequivocally safe, and we know many people and many organizations are not moving on mandating vaccine or getting vaccines until it is fully approved,” he said, citing a case involving Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. “The federal government has said this is legal for companies to mandate it.”

WATCH: Joseph Allen on how businesses can lead the way on vaccine mandates