A political storm has erupted in the United States over President Joe Biden’s announcement of new coronavirus vaccine mandates.
America’s vaccine rollout progressed swiftly earlier this year, but has since hit a wall of hesitancy and outright hostility, with millions of people refusing to get the shots even though they have been free and available to all adults since April.
A little over half the population is fully vaccinated, and 73 per cent of Americans 12 years or older have received at least one dose. But that still leaves tens of millions of eligible people who remain completely unprotected.
Yesterday Biden, visibly frustrated, announced a suite of measures designed to increase uptake of the Covid vaccines.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free,” the President said.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination programme, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have Americans who have failed to get the shot.
“And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against Covid-19. Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they’re ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from Covid in their communities. This is totally unacceptable.
“The path ahead, even with the Delta variant, is not nearly as bad as last winter. But what makes it incredibly more frustrating is that we have the tools to combat Covid-19, and a distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner.
“These pandemic politics are making people sick and causing unvaccinated people to die.”
The measures Biden announced yesterday include a requirement that all employees of the federal government, and all employees of contractors who do business with the federal government, be vaccinated.
Vaccination will also be mandatory for workers in most healthcare settings, including hospitals.
And most controversially, all private employers with 100 or more workers will be required to either ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or make unvaccinated employees produce a negative Covid test result at least once a week. This measure is expected to impact about 80 million workers.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice. It is about protecting yourself and those around you. The people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love,” Biden argued.
“The bottom line: we are going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated workers. We are going to reduce the spread of Covid-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated in businesses all across America.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA [Food and Drug Adminsitration] approval. Over 200 million Americans have got at least one shot.
“Our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing. But don’t just take it from me. Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds taking their final breath, saying, ‘If only I’d gotten vaccinated. If only.’ It’s a tragedy. Please don’t let it become yours.”
The President’s announcement has not gone down well among his political opponents. More than a dozen Republican state governors have already signalled their intention to fight the new measures in court.
“The American dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden and the radical Democrats,” said South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.
“Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”
“This is exactly the kind of big government overreach we have tried so hard to prevent in Arizona,” said that state’s Governor, Doug Ducey.
“Now the Biden administration is hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way. This will never stand up in court.”
Governor Kristi Noem said, “South Dakota will stand up to defend freedom. Joe Biden, see you in court.”
Other politicians have taken their rhetoric further.
JD Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy and a leading candidate for a US Senate seat in Ohio, called for Americans to engage in “mass civil disobedience”. He saidBiden’s new mandates were “morally reprehensible”.
“While Joe Biden likes to talk about millions of American citizens as if they’re nothing more than vermin to be ruled by him and his friends, he’s revealed himself to be nothing more than a geriatric tyrant,” said Vance.
“I have a simple message for America’s business community: DO NOT COMPLY. Do not comply with the mandates. Do not pay the government fines. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied and controlled. Only mass civil disobedience will save us from Joe Biden’s naked authoritarianism.”
Josh Mandel, another Senate candidate, said he hoped the Supreme Court would strike down the new rules.
“And if they don’t, I call on my fellow Americans, do not comply. And when the Gestapo show up at your door, you know what to do,” he said.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a serial conspiracy theorist, also invoked the Nazis, saying she would not “take orders from Fascists”.
“Remember the Nuremberg Code, Joe?” she asked on Twitter, referring to the standards for doctors carrying out experiments on human subjects that were imposed in the wake of the Nazis’ atrocities.
And this vehement opposition to the vaccine mandates extends into conservative media, where prominent voices have said they will defy the President’s new measures.
“We’re going to use every method and resource at our disposal to defy the President’s unconstitutional order,” said Daily Wire co-founder Ben Shapiro, for example.
“The Daily Wire does have more than 100 employees but we won’t be enforcing Joe Biden’s unconstitutional and tyrannical vaccine mandate,” added the conservative publication’s CEO Jeremy Boreing.
“We will use every tool at our disposal, including legal action, to resist.”
The US Supreme Court has previously ruled in favour of vaccine mandates, most notably in a precedent-setting 1905 case called Jacobson vs Massachusetts. That case involved a man named Henning Jacobson who refused to get vaccinated against smallpox and was fined by the state of Massachusetts.
Jacobson claimed his rights under the US Constitution had been violated. The court did not agree.
“There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organised society could not exist with safety to its members,” the court wrote in its judgment.
“Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognises the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”
That was more than a century ago, however, and the current Supreme Court might rule differently. The court is controlled by a 6-3 conservative majority.
Another differentiating factor is the fact that Massachusetts was exercising its power as a state government, whereas this time the mandates are being imposed federally.
During a visit to a middle school in Washington today,Biden was asked for his response to the Republican governors who are threatening to sue.
“Have at it,” he said.
“I am so disappointed that, particularly some Republican governors, have been so cavalier with the health of these kids. So cavalier with the health of their communities.
“We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game. And I don’t know of any scientist out there in this field that doesn’t think it makes considerable sense to do the things I have suggested.”
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