“When an effective vaccine is available for COVID-19, it will only defeat the pandemic if it is widely used, creating “herd immunity,” according to a USAToday opinion piece.
While this isn’t a particularly controversial statement, the article’s authors arrive at a concerning conclusion: if herd immunity is our best protection, then the government ought to force the vaccination of all Americans—except those with medical contraindications.
To do this, government officials must not respect “religious objections” or “personal preference,” the article reads. What’s more, Americans would have to be entered into a government database and obtain an immunization card to prove their compliance. If the authors get their way, failure to comply would be met with severe punishments. Finally, the writers laughably purport that following this roadmap is not only American, but “patriotic.”
Woah. There’s a lot to unpack there, but suffice it to say, the authors have some glaring flaws in their argument.
First, I agree that when a safe and functional vaccine is developed, people should absolutely want to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their fellow Americans. In fact, a few weeks ago, I even volunteered for the vaccine trial, although I haven’t heard back. Even so, I am happy to do my part—however miniscule—but it is important to note that I volunteered.
While a COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been approved yet, it is supposed to be ready for widespread usage late this year or early next year—thanks to Operation Warp Speed, which is expediting the vaccine’s development. It usually takes more than a decade—sometimes much more—for vaccines to be perfected and approved, but Operation Warp Speed truncates the process into a matter of months. However, as the Scientific American pointed out, there are risks involved, including questions of effectiveness and side effects.
The truth is that some of these questions likely won’t be satisfactorily answered by the time the vaccine is available to the general public. But to force all Americans to submit to a government-mandated vaccine that isn’t entirely proven effective would be wholly irresponsible. Instead, people should be allowed to be vaccinated on a volunteer basis without threat or coercion from the government.
Beyond these matters, despite what the USAToday article claims, there’s nothing American about blindly surrendering rights, liberties and privacy to a hulking, error-prone government, but that’s what such a system requires. The national COVID-19 vaccination database would infringe on people’s right to privacy from government intrusion; if you have religious concerns with the vaccination, you would not be permitted to exercise your convictions—possibly setting the stage for a constitutional challenge; and finally, Americans would lose the liberty to do as they choose, but Americans do not like being told what to do. In fact, that ethos has been present since around the time we told the British monarchy to pound sand in 1776.
Further, it’s also a stretch to call mandatory vaccinations under threat of penalty patriotic. Am I a heroic patriot for driving the speed limit or permitting TSA agents to search my bags at Hartsfield Jackson? Nope, that’s mandatory. But patriotism is voluntary love for your country and fellow citizens, and patriotic acts tend to be voluntary deeds and sacrifices, unlike the proposed compulsory vaccination system.
What is even more baffling about the USAToday piece is that the authors are dying to empower the government with further authority. While they didn’t specify what level of government would manage forced vaccination operation, it seems that the feds would oversee it. However, one of the authors recently called President Donald Trump an “idiot,” and while that’s his right to do so, it seems silly that he’d want to increasingly empower this same man to preside over the mandatory vaccine effort and punish those who refuse to comply. This simply demonstrates the lack of seriousness of the writers’ proposal.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about prior calamities, terror attacks and wars, it’s that we need to be careful about surrendering rights and liberties to the government out of fear. Once lost, they are difficult to retrieve. While I believe the authors of the USAToday opinion piece are well-intentioned, they are wholly confused about what it means to be un-American or to be patriotic. Moreover, their rush to cede individual liberties to the state could spectacularly backfire.
All of this is not to say that we shouldn’t get vaccinated. In all likelihood, I will voluntarily get inoculated as early as possible. But I would understand if some others have concerns, and I would try to respect them. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the vaccination’s release date and COVID-19 becoming a thing of the past.
Marc Hyden is the Director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.