Not every “good” idea should be a government mandate, nor should every “bad” idea be made illegal. Receiving the COVID vaccine, for the vast majority of American adults, is a good idea. The vaccination is provably effective at lowering the risk of hospitalization or death. For those who have received it, the risk posed by the coronavirus is effectively the same as the common cold. And yet, because there remain many in this nation who still harbor doubts, reluctance or hesitancy toward “getting the jab,” government officials have become increasingly more aggressive in forcing vaccination upon those who would otherwise refuse it.
Last month, the Biden administration announced plans to issue an executive decree that would coerce companies into requiring proof of vaccination from employees. Likewise, some local governments across the nation have gone even further—with New York City openly treating unvaccinated individuals as second-class citizens by requiring vaccine passports for ordinary activities such as dining at a restaurant, joining a gym or going to the movies.
Ostensibly, such drastic infringements on the autonomy of the individual are warranted to “stop the spread” of the coronavirus. Indeed, like many vaccination mandates before it—such as those for polio or smallpox (both of which are far deadlier than COVID)—the argument has been that unvaccinated individuals pose a harm to others, by preventing the eventual eradication of the virus itself.
However, unlike those other vaccines, the COVID vaccine doesn’t actually “stop the spread” according to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, it reduces the risk of serious illness or death for those who take it.
What this means is that the entire argument for mandatory vaccinations—that the unvaccinated pose a substantial risk to everyone else—simply isn’t grounded in science. The virus will continue to spread, regardless of vaccination rates. Getting vaccinated, in other words, protects the individual receiving the jab… not those around them. As such, vaccine mandates aren’t actually about protecting the whole of society from the “irresponsible” actions of a few. They’re about coercing American adults into behaving the way our ruling elites have decided they should. It’s about forcing people to make “good” decisions.
Of course, not everyone in politics is on board. Naturally, partisan lines have been drawn, and many Republican governors have adamantly opposed such overreach. Unfortunately, some have responded with overreach of their own. Understanding that vaccination requirements are an inherently “bad” idea, some GOP governors have opted to make it illegal for private-sector businesses to set their own policies regarding the vaccination status of their patrons and employees.
South Dakota’s Governor, Kristi Noem, seems to be one of the few ideologically consistent voices of limited government on this particular issue—opposing government vaccine mandates while simultaneously resisting the chorus of populist GOPers calling for the government to intrude on the vaccine policies of private companies. Needless to say, Gov. Noem’s position isn’t winning her many friends within either major political tribe.
Like most of the political disagreements in the age of COVID, debates over vaccine mandates have devolved to intellectually vapid displays of partisan tribalism punctuated by populist political uses of government coercion and overreach.
We’re told that we must pick between binary extremes of government intervention—as if allowing individuals (and private businesses) to make their own choice shouldn’t even be entertained as an option.
We’re told that only government mandates, or government prohibitions, can pave the way to our political party’s perceived promised land.
Contrary to what the partisan outrage artists in politics and on social media insist, however, it is actually possible to believe that private businesses have the right to require things of employees that the government does not. Likewise, it’s possible to believe that able-bodied adults would be foolish to forego vaccination, while simultaneously believing that government mandating their injection is a form of grotesque (and even immoral) overreach by the state.
Simply put, the preservation of our free society requires that individuals have the latitude to make their own decisions—even when the partisan leaders of our ruling class might consider those decisions to be imprudent.
In fact, that’s usually when such freedoms matter the most.