How do you persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get the vaccine? I can’t lay claim to knowing what the answer is — but President Joe Biden definitely can’t, either.
Biden announced in a speech Thursday that those who work for companies with more than 100 employees must be vaccinated or take weekly COVID-19 tests as part of his “six-pronged strategy” for dealing with infections from the delta variant. According to the Daily Caller, violations could cost employers thousands of dollars for each employee.
As the president pointed out during his address, the rule covers companies “that together employ over 80 million workers” — a number similar to the total unvaccinated Americans.
“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,” he said, according to a White House transcript.
“Of the nearly 80 million eligible Americans who have not gotten vaccinated, many said they were waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA,” Biden said. “Well, last month, the FDA granted that approval. So, the time for waiting is over.”
“This is not about freedom or personal choice, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you,” he added.
It was, last I checked, about personal freedom, even if the president believes personal freedom can be qualified by the government. That’s what made Biden’s tone throughout the speech paternalistic, at the very least. At times, it was downright authoritarian.
The peak totalitarian moment was arguably this bit, which could have come out of a Biden-as-Darth Vader parody: “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin — and your refusal has cost all of us.”
Biden on people who haven’t gotten vaccinated:
“We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us.” pic.twitter.com/Hj4jnmWpuX
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 9, 2021
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for?” Biden said. “What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient.
“The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing.”
So please, Mr. President, do the right thing and take it from me, a vaccinated person: Never use almost any of the tactics you used here on Americans who are vaccine-hesitant.
What more is there to wait for now that the vaccine is FDA approved? This has been one of the flimsier arguments touted out thus far; as CNN pointed out in a 2017 article, “about a third of the drugs the FDA approved between 2001 and 2010 were involved in some kind of safety event after reaching the market.”
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association four years ago, “222 novel therapeutics were approved, and there were 123 postmarket safety events involving 71 products that required FDA action.”
It also noted this: “On average, it takes about 12 years to get a drug from the research phase to patient. Only five in 5,000 drugs in preclinical testing make it to human trials, and only one in five is ever approved for human use.”
It took 17 months from the time COVID-19 to the time the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine got full FDA approval.
This isn’t quite the argument Biden thinks it is.
And then there’s the truly problematic bit from this clip: “We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin — and your refusal has cost all of us.” In other words, your bodily autonomy when it comes to a controversial vaccine hinges on the government’s good graces.
Let’s skip the fact this is interesting messaging coming from a party that wants to block any attempt to limit abortion in part, they say, because the decision to end a pregnancy is about a woman’s right to choose for herself (and the unborn child). Now they’ve decided that, since your decision to not get the vaccine could theoretically “cost” someone, it’s time for Uncle Joe to bring the hammer down.
Instead, let’s talk language. Throughout the speech, intentionally or not, Biden gave off the vibe he was the lord of the estate, the federal government represented the vassals and we all were the serfs. Here, he noted the lord and the vassals had been patient with us to do what they wanted us to — and now they’re getting angry. We don’t want to see them angry, do we?
The carrot Biden’s administration is proposing: Take a drug you feel uncomfortable with (or take unpleasant weekly tests) and you keep your job. The stick: You lose your job.
And this threat to take away the livelihood of the vaccine-hesitant was pitched in ominous tones that weren’t going to convince anyone. “This is not about freedom or personal choice.” “We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin.” “The time for waiting is over.”
Whether or not this passes constitutional muster is an open question. While no vaccination mandate of this scale has ever been attempted, in the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the court held in a 7-2 ruling that a state could compel an individual to receive a vaccination.
Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote in his decision that “as to an adult residing in the community, and a fit subject of vaccination, the statute is not invalid as in derogation of any of the rights of such person under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
This was using the police power of the state, however — not using a Cabinet-level office of the federal government to force vaccination among employees of certain corporations, a far more legally novel approach being applied by unelected bureaucrats, not elected lawmakers.
That being said, there’s a difference between whether something is constitutional and how it’s pitched. Thursday’s speech was a nightmare rollout, a moment that was more Big Brother than it was Uncle Joe.
It’s one thing for the president to announce it’s your jab or your job. It’s another to announce it’s because he’s lost patience with you.
Of all the ways this could have been framed, it’s difficult to think of a worse one.
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