Mandates Banning Mandates
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 28, 2022
How could we still be fighting about mandates for Covid vaccines? It’s clear that if you haven’t gotten a shot, you don’t want one — for whatever reason, and with whatever consequences follow for you or for me.
Yet, we’re arguing more often and more poorly than ever, and it’s spawning its own spreading culture of serious doubt — no, denial — about everything from governing to library books to the news media to medical information.
Several recent events show that the smoldering ashes of division pop up repeatedly, with language coarsening and fists flying on planes, at school boards and in stores. The recent court decisions, dropping poll support, rising tumult, and the general expressions of fatigue with all-things-Covid have prompted the Biden administration to withdraw, at least temporarily, its turn to broad mandates for vaccines and regular testing.
At the same time, we still have a public contagion making lots of people of all ages ill, if less severely, and hospitalizations and deaths continuing at high numbers — with more to come.
For most vaccinated people, this Omicron version is passing like a bad flu keeping individuals housebound or isolated for several days, but not getting worse than that. For the unvaccinated, the results are more severe, even striking those who have been vaccinated or who have had Covid previously and tout natural immunity.. That the severity of the disease appears from data to hit the unvaccinated multiple times more seriously obviously is no prod to get a jab if you question the medicine, the politics, or some vast conspiracy.
OK, we all get that.
Still, it’s a sign that Covid is not going away, as we hear endlessly. And the fatigue that Americans express for public health measures that many think the best course is not enough to dissuade a virus that continues to mutate. Unhappiness doesn’t stop pandemics.
But here’s my question: Isn’t the executive order of a governor who bans all mask mandates by local authorities down to a school principal a mandate in itself?
If we’re serious about leaving such decisions to individual business owners, schools district or individual schools or even parents, why do we need wholesale mandates barring, well, other mandates?
Glenn Youngkin, the new Republican governor of Virginia, is making headlines because he is barring any orders forcing masks in schools. He says it is in support of parent rights not to do so. But, at the same time, he is abridging the right of the parent who wants the extra public health protection for kids in the local school. The result: More lawsuits, not better health or school attendance.
A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers nationwide, leaning, perhaps incorrectly, on the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that stopped a similar rule for larger businesses. The Supreme Court ruling was based on specific language of authorizing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the same ruling upheld a similar order by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. It wasn’t a blanket mandate against mandates. The result: With 95% of federal employees already vaccinated, probably little practical outcome.
But it is the sound bite or the headline that survives — the perception that Joe Biden is trying to force you and me to take a vaccine that we don’t want. Repeat it enough times, and Americans are showing that they will believe it, whether about vaccines, Jan. 6, inflation and economic trends, or whether an election was stolen.
In New York, a proudly anti-vax Sarah Palin decided to eat inside a tony East Side restaurant around the time of her positive Covid tests. Restaurant owners are now urgently tracking down regular customers to tell them to get tested. And in Washington, an embarrassed Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is apologizing after invoking Anne Frank to an anti-vax rally to imply that Jews had more freedoms during the Holocaust than unvaccinated Americans do today.
Surely, we could agree that the woman in Virginia now facing criminal charges for threatening to bring a weapon into school officials to keep her kid from being asked to wear a mask in school was over the top.
A recent posting from someone we know asserted fictionally and sarcastically that her child in school had lice, but had rights to go to school untreated, with the guarantee that lice would spread to the next child.
Why does this sound so strange in our current push and pull? Why do people wear seat belts or agree to drive on one side of the road or put up with a request to show a passport at an immigration booth? What’s a rule that makes sense for the general welfare and what’s a mandate?
Are the only alternatives an invitation to contagion or China-like blanket orders for lockdown? Amid all the talk about Living with Covid, one wonders whether we’re doing better than a mediocre job of doing just that.
Mandates Reflect a Failure
That we have mandates at all is an admission of failure.
It was in our own self-interest as well as communal responsibility to either take the jab or to get out of the way. Most of the rest of the world is begging for vaccines, and we’re treating free access to them as a burden — a mandated burden. Our American response is more than confusing. And, from growing polling, we apparently think people should not pay any price for continuing to carry the contagion to others.
Instead, we’ve raised individualism and some kind of adopted rebellion to the max, and shunted any responsibility for what happens to the next guy. In my case, the next guy happens to be a wife with cancer who is immune-compromised, and our individual strategy as people in the target group for Covid is to protect ourselves with public health measures and to avoid as much discretionary contact where contagion is possible. We have asked groups in which we are members to act similarly.
Why isn’t that true for the other party here?
We should own up to our societal failures here: Our trust in the nation’s medical establishment has failed, and we’re not sure what to make of the fact that cases keep rising but most people we know are no longer hospitalized or dying. I don’t see much attempt by anti-vaxxers to reestablish that trust.
Our insistence that we as individuals know more than scientists reflects a failure too. For sure, we should be asking about what passes as such individual “research.” By and large, the research seems to be shared web posts and videos of anecdotal cases that may are accurate about individuals but that do not pass the scrutiny or rigor of most clinical medical trials. If you don’t trust public health doctors, why trust promoters of alternative treatments?
For that matter, what difference does it make to individualism whether the mandate is from the state or the federal government, an executive or a court?
What is weird, for example, is our collective desire to put individual experience over any research from using stimulants to boost natural immunity — a mainstay for cancer and other illnesses for 25 years already. These vaccines are not new medicine — they are agents to boost the production of the body’s own immunology.
We have a failure in our communications, exaggerated by the media outlet of choice, because the anti-vax movement has pretty much merged with partisan interests. Whatever else we should conclude about the current state of vaccines and Covid, we should accept that debating mandates is a waste of time.