Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden clearly intends to fight COVID-19 by presidential fiat.
Biden has said that he would impose “a national mandate to wear a mask any time you are outside.” He also has said that if “advised by the scientists,” he would completely shut down the country’s economy again.
That brings us to the question of a nationwide vaccine mandate, already under active discussion in political and bioethical circles. President Donald Trump has already stated that he wants COVID-19 inoculations to be made available to the public as soon as humanly possible—the point of Operation Warp Speed—but has also stated that such shots should be voluntary.
What about Biden? He hasn’t said specifically but would probably say—as he has about masks and shutdowns—that he would “listen to the experts.” If so, there is every reason to believe Biden would impose a national mandate.
It’s a well-known maxim in Washington that “personnel is policy.” The first among Biden’s health care advisers is the Obamacare architect and bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel—also a good bet to be Biden’s nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services.
Emanuel is a technocrat’s technocrat. He loves health-related mandates. Indeed, Obamacare was stuffed with them.
When COVID-19 first hit, Emanuel urged the economy to be closed for 18 months, the time then thought to be required to develop a vaccine. More recently, just as the economy is showing signs of renewed vigor, he was the lead signatory in an open letter signed by “experts” urging the government to impose a new forced six-week shutdown, and “this time, do it right” (as if the last one didn’t cause enough harm).
Moreover, we already know that Emanuel believes in national vaccine mandates. Before the coronavirus was a dark cloud on the horizon, the technocrat published a piece in The New York Times, titled “All Children Should Have to Get a Flu Shot,” in which he wrote that all children 18 and under be required to take a flu shot every year.
He wrote: “The freedom to allow your child to contract and transmit a deadly disease is hardly a real freedom worth protecting. In 1905, the Supreme Court recognized the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination—in that case for smallpox. The court made it clear that the state may be justified in restricting individual liberty when ‘great dangers’ threaten ‘the safety of the general public.’”
This, even though the flu kills fewer than 200 children every year.
Emanuel forgot to mention that there has never been a vaccine mandate imposed on the entire country. Indeed, Jacobson v. Massachusetts—the case Emanuel referenced—does not stand for the comprehensive proposition that the U.S. government can force everyone to take a vaccine.
Rather, the question was whether an order issued by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, health board requiring all residents to be inoculated—issued during a localized smallpox outbreak—violated the U.S. Constitution. The court said no. In other words, the case approved the very federalism approach that Trump champions, not the imposition of national mandates of the kind Emanuel proposes.
‘Show Your Papers’
It isn’t just Emanuel. Around the country, progressive officials and advocates are increasingly urging that COVID-19 vaccines be made mandatory. On Aug. 21, for example, Virginia’s health commissioner said he intends to impose a statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
A New York State Bar Association committee advocated that “it should be mandatory for all Americans to have a COVID-19 vaccine … including those who don’t want it for religious, philosophical, or personal reasons.”
Meanwhile, on Aug. 6, three influential bioethicists wrote in USA Today: “To win the war against the novel coronavirus … the only answer is compulsory vaccination—for all of us … Do not honor religious objections … Do not allow objections for personal preference, which violate the social contract.”
How would the mandate be enforced?
“Vaccine refusers could lose tax credits or be denied nonessential government benefits. Health insurers could levy higher premiums for those who by refusing immunization place themselves and others at risk, as is the case for smokers. Private businesses could refuse to employ or serve unvaccinated individuals. Schools could refuse to allow unimmunized children to attend classes. Public and commercial transit companies—airlines, trains, and buses—could exclude refusers. Public and private auditoriums could require evidence of immunization for entry.”
Authoritarian control of this kind requires the ability to force people to “show your papers.” And indeed, the authors write: “A registry of immunization will be needed with names entered after immunization is completed … Immunized persons will need to receive expiration date-stamped certification cards, which should be issued to all who are immunized in the country, whether here legally or not.”
Good grief! Again, these are the kind of politically liberal technocratic “experts” likely to be advising a Biden administration.
Let me be clear that I am not an “anti-vaxxer.” To the contrary, I am a big believer in vaccines. I have a flu shot every year. I have received the pneumonia vaccine and am careful to remain current on tetanus protection. I have had the shingles jab. If there was a shot to protect against halitosis, I would take it! In other words, if my doctor approves, I will almost certainly accept a COVID-19 inoculation once it is available.
But I also believe that attempting to coerce all Americans to do likewise would be profoundly unwise and unnecessarily authoritarian. The government can’t just pass any law it wants simply because there is a health emergency. A national mandate law would have to be “reasonable”—the legal standard enunciated in the Jacobson case.
Jacobson dealt with smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases known to man, that is not only a mass killer of adults and children alike, but also, a disease that badly disfigured survivors. In contrast, those at material risk of death from COVID-19—still at a lower risk than smallpox—are the elderly and people with serious comorbidities. Almost all children and healthy adults recover from the illness and some experience no symptoms of any kind.
Second, government mandates breed distrust. Considering the brouhaha that has overtaken the country over wearing face masks, just imagine the effort that would be required to force everyone to take a medical substance into their bodies against their will.
Third, the development of some—not all—potential COVID-19 vaccines involves the use of fetal tissue taken from aborted fetuses. Most people might not worry about that. But millions of Catholics and other pro-lifers would simply refuse to be complicit in what they consider an immoral process. The effort it would take to compel them to take the vaccine would rend what little is left of this country’s social fabric.
Finally, we face a real and present danger of technocracy—that is, rule by experts. COVID-19 presents those would-be overlords a tremendous opportunity to gain power. If the technocrats can legally coerce us all into taking a vaccine, there isn’t much else they couldn’t force us to do in the name of health and wellness.
A President Biden would, of course, be free to use persuasive means to convince us all to be inoculated. But impose a national vaccine mandate? I fear he would try. But that wouldn’t be the American way.
Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is the chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His latest book is “Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.