A Mandate Could Have Ended This
“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
— James Madison
By now, it is widespread news that the Supreme Court struck down Joe Biden’s workplace vaccine mandate. Though the mandate for federally-funded health care facilities was upheld, the other arguably would have been of greater utility for two reasons.
First, the sheer number of citizens whose vaccination status would have been subject to scrutiny (nearly 84 million), and the benefits that companies held in wait for those who complied, would have incentivized the hesitant to get their shots. Second, those who opted to test out would have been part of a practice America has never gotten right from the pandemic’s outset: rapid testing en masse. As we have seen globally, this would have largely inhibited a skyrocketing infection rate that is otherwise guaranteed.
Our collective goal of effective public health policy and the idea we each have a vested interest in implementing strategies to contain threats — be it COVID-19, influenza, or car crashes — seems lost now. But it is a mistake to think this goal suddenly evaporated when COVID arrived on the pathogenic scene.
For decades, we have lived with the expectation of infection. That we have viewed catching a cold, for instance, as an inevitable event — something to tolerate rather than prevent — seems strange now after having so long been hypervigilant of keeping a novel virus at bay. Going into work, or anywhere else for that matter, with the sniffles and a sore throat was not a taboo. Today, it is a shameful act. Our relationship to illness can be transformed by COVID if we allow it to be.
Whipsawed businesses must now contend with half-baked vaccine and mask policies that are no longer legal necessities. Will they decide to follow through with their mandates given the effort it takes to execute them, or will they stay them in favor of ostensible convenience? Ultimately, mandates, including those with test-out options, benefit the bottom line. If a majority of your workforce is out sick, an efficient business becomes an oxymoron. Fostering immunity in microcosm (say a corporate office) ensures that workers are less likely to have to miss a week’s work. Hopefully, executives weigh their options and choose the course of action most beneficial for everyone involved.
I say this as there is speculation Omicron will finally lead us to the ever so elusive endemicity, due to the exponential rate at which Americans are contracting it. (At the time of writing this, we are averaging over 800,000 cases per day.) Endemicity is determined by the balance of immunity between a population’s recently infected and those whose immunity has begun waning. Just as a pathogen has seemingly exhausted its selection of prospective hosts, it finds replenished resources in the long-recovered. Perhaps between immunity granted by Omicron and immunization from the mRNA vaccines, we will find equilibrium — or so optimism would have us think.
We have reached a moment at which I’m unsure whether the remaining unvaccinated portion of the American population will ever be vaccinated, even after COVID becomes endemic. I also wonder how many will forgo vaccines indefinitely given all that has transpired. It is profoundly worrisome and tragic we have arrived here — where science-backed measures are mistaken for tyranny predicated on a deep mistrust in governmental institutions after decades of growing social inequities and a propaganda machine that preys on pathological personalities tormented by fears of domination and insecurity.
One can only hope to find a guiding light in truth and well-reasoned discourse about the most urgent issues of our time.