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Biden’s Vaccine Mandate is Justified
The United States has a precedent of vaccine mandates, which are what we need to bring this pandemic under control.
Enough is enough. Today we mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a genuine tragedy. Meanwhile, far more people continue to die preventably of COVID-19 to this day. It is time to take serious measures to limit all of this unnecessary death and suffering. Unless you have a good medical reason for not being vaccinated, if you live in a developed country with a surplus of vaccines, you should be expected to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Many conservatives have rushed to label this an overreach of executive power, but it is exactly what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is designed to handle. Yes, this pandemic is far more than just a workplace safety issue, but it presents significant challenges in its mission to “assure safe and healthy working conditions” in the United States. Congressional action is not necessary because the 1970 bill they passed to create the agency granted them the power to implement workplace safety standards.
OSHA is under the umbrella of the Department of Labor, which is led by a member of Biden’s cabinet, the Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh. This effectively puts OSHA under Biden’s command, enabling him to issue such a guidance. Though pushing vaccination rates higher will have a whole host of benefits, it is a cost-effective and impactful way to keep numerous workers safe who would otherwise suffer from the virus. This is not a misuse of this power. This is a profoundly positive step forward for the safety of workers.
Vaccine mandates are not some new phenomenon in the United States. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington required soldiers in the Continental Army to get inoculated against smallpox in order to prevent potentially devastating outbreaks during the war. The military requires many vaccines to this day. Childhood vaccinations are often required to attend schools. I needed even more to live in the dorms in college. Immigrants are required to prove they have gotten various vaccinations as well.
Some may cry, “Authoritarianism!” at this, and I am one to typically take up anti-authoritarian causes myself. But the public health gains provided by vaccination are so massive, while the burden they place on individuals is minor and fleeting. Getting stuck with a needle might be slightly painful, and the whole experience is a little anxiety-inducing for some. But, once you are vaccinated, you can proceed with your life with all the freedom you had before — arguably more freedom once it has taken effect since it provides you with more safety in public during the pandemic.
That sort of conceptualization of freedom is important. One could call prohibitions against murder and assault authoritarian along the same grounds, but we recognize — most of us, anyway — that a freer society is one in which we can walk around without worry that we may be violently attacked by others without consequence. Regardless of an unvaccinated person’s intent, if they get infected and walk around in public, they are essentially engaging in biological attacks against those around them.
Medical conditions and allergies prevent some people from safely taking certain vaccines. Those with compromised immune systems typically have weaker protection even when vaccinated. The fact that these people cannot be properly protected by vaccines is all the more reason the rest of us need to get vaccinated. They usually catch the virus from those of us who can protect ourselves from us. By eliminating vectors for its spread, we can keep it from ever threatening them in the first place.
This is not some suspension of civil liberties where there is an ongoing infringement of a right previously treated as sacred. This is just another in a long line of public health decisions by a government with a nuanced enough understanding of “freedom” to recognize that we deserve freedom from the recklessness of others — freedom from transmissible disease. We take for granted how much vaccines have improved public health, and it is critical we take that further, especially with the possibilities opened by mRNA vaccines. A vaccinated society is a freer society. This will be self-evident more than ever when the pandemic finally ends.