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REPORT: USA considering making vaccines mandatory

It is very important that people do not misunderstand what the headline above means, so let’s be absolutely clear. First, this is a report, albeit one from NBC news, which means that it should be taken seriously. But it is also not 100% fact, or anything like that. Second, their sources are good, but their sources say it is being “considered”, which is not the same thing as definitely happening. If we’re all clear on that, then let us proceed:

The United States could see a wave of Covid-19 vaccine mandates as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to one or more of the shots, public health experts predicted.

I think once the vaccines go through full FDA approval, everything should be on the table, and I think that everything will be on the table at the level of municipalities, states, employers, venues, government agencies,” said Andy Slavitt, who stepped down as President Joe Biden’s Covid response coordinator last month and remains in close contact with administration officials.

Many institutions, including colleges and universities, have long required certain immunizations. Still, the suggestion of Covid vaccine mandates, whether by local governments for school children or by businesses for their customers, has so far been met with sharp resistance — primarily from conservative lawmakers and activists.

Biden’s administration has so far resisted any vaccine requirements, opting instead to offer incentives. But Slavitt said he expects that to change with full FDA approval.

He said he believes some federal agencies should then begin requiring vaccinations for their employees, including members of the military, health care workers at Veterans Affairs hospitals and nursing homes, and other federal workers in close contact with the public, like airport security screeners.

There are a few things to note about this. First, and most importantly, what is under consideration is not a full vaccine mandate where it would be illegal not to be vaccinated. Such a thing would be entirely unenforceable, because enforcing it would require arresting people, holding them down, and injecting them. That would be unpalatable even in countries where 90% of people are getting vaccinated voluntarily. In the US, though, we could be talking about up to 30-40% of the population. It is just not doable, without massive public unrest.

What they’re considering is essentially an expanded version of Ireland’s vaccine certifications. Here, you can’t go to a pub without one. In America, according to this report, they are considering making it so that you cannot go to a university, or work in a taxpayer funded job, or attend a school, or be a prisoner, without getting one. It is essentially a proposal for a two-tier society.

Second, the sourcing here is impeccable. This is not coming from un-named people, but explicitly from the guy who, up until last month, was in charge of the covid response at the White House. If he says such a thing is under consideration, then it very definitely is.

Third, if such a thing is being considered by the Biden administration, then it will become, very quickly, Irish policy. There would also be much less resistance to it here.

In fact, we already see it, to some extent, in Ireland. The HSE has already, effectively, made the vaccine mandatory for those who wish to work in healthcare. It will not be long, you suspect, before universities announce that it will be mandatory for students who wish to attend in-person lectures this autumn. Since the overwhelming majority will comply, it will not be especially difficult to justify excluding those who refuse.

Fourth, increasingly, one is forced to tip one’s hat to the conspiracy theorists, whose statements looked like mad ravings a year ago, and on this subject at least, now look prophetic. As a lifelong eye-roller at conspiracy theories, that is a hard statement to make.

Fifth, one wonders at the point of all of this. The USA has been, mostly, open as normal for months now. Places like Texas and Florida and Indiana opened long before the Biden administration advised, have lower vaccine take-up than you might hope and…. are doing just fine. There is no immediate sign of a delta surge in the US leading to growth in hospitalisations and deaths. Increasingly, one wonders, what exactly are they seeking to prevent?

The uncomfortable truth is that covid vaccines are becoming about much more than disease prevention for some people. There is, be in no doubt, a class of people who have decided that forcing people who do not wish to take a vaccine to take a vaccine is not just a victory for public health, but also a victory for their view of the world. A sort of “screw you, we’re in charge”. Equally, on the other side, you have a large number of people for whom not taking a vaccine is no longer about science, or rationality, but simply about standing up to the man. It’s the perfect fodder for this kind of row.

For what it’s worth, don’t expect this to actually happen in the USA. The opposition to it is too large, and too well organised. There are legal and constitutional hurdles to overcome, and power is so spread out that the kind of unified Government action you would need to enforce it simply won’t be there. Universities who try it will be sued, and so on.

No, the problem is if and when it is tried here in Ireland. Then, the opposition to it will be next to non-existent.

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