After Americans hoped that mass vaccination would bring COVID-19 under control — and permit the restoration of something like normal life — we are instead witnessing an explosion of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Despite the vaccine, the dangerous delta variant threatens younger people and even children, who escaped the worst of last year's carnage.
To an alarming degree, this crisis is the result of open sabotage of public health, coming from Republican politicians and right-wing media figures — who seem weirdly eager to doom their gullible constituents for a distorted conception of "freedom." No sane ideal includes the right to infect others with a deadly disease. Take it from George Washington, who ordered the compulsory vaccination of the Continental Army against smallpox during the American Revolution.
Now there is only one way, the George Washington way, to put an end to this nightmare: the mandatory vaccination of every eligible man, woman and child. The alternative is to endure a chronic disaster, as vaccine resistance promotes the growth of potentially more contagious and deadly viral mutations.
From the moment he became president, Joe Biden focused on outreach, persuasion and every means of encouraging voluntary vaccination. For a while that appeared to be working well, especially in parts of the country where science holds more sway than conspiracy theories and superstitions. But there is no way to cordon off the fools, dupes and charlatans from the rest of us. That is why infections are spiking even in places where vaccination and masking rates are high.
More recently, Biden has announced vaccination requirements for federal workers, employees of federal contractors and military personnel. He has also endorsed and even urged vaccination mandates by private corporations and other entities. But he has hesitated to insist on certain national policies that would lead to universal inoculation.
No doubt the president and his advisers dread the polarization that such measures would inevitably cause. They may fear an upsurge in anti-vaccination violence from the kind of pathological personalities who assault store clerks, teachers and even nurses for wearing masks.
But as he weighs next steps against the pandemic, Biden should keep in mind that despite the noise created by right-wing media, vaccine mandates are popular. In late July, 56 percent of adults said employers should require vaccination for both employees and customers, while only 32 percent objected, according to a Morning Consult poll. A July Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of adults believe that high school and middle school students should be vaccinated to return to school.
And earlier this summer, a survey by a consortium of universities found that 64 percent of adults support a national vaccine mandate for everyone. According to FiveThirtyEight, only three states didn't show majority support for the strictest requirement — North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Biden, of course, knows that his initial popularity stemmed largely from his handling of the pandemic, which contrasted so nobly with the feckless former guy. To regain that commanding position — and to fulfill the promises he made on taking office — he can demonstrate the strength to push back the forces imperiling the nation's recovery. He can start by renewing his call for mandatory vaccinations and bringing together government, business and labor to support that call, and by using his executive authority to establish vaccination requirements for anyone traveling interstate by air, rail, bus or boat.
Moreover, anyone who seeks to discourage vaccination by violence or threats should be subject to immediate prosecution by federal authorities, without exception.
Not only is mandatory vaccination morally sound and politically popular, but it also works. When French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new hard line on "vaccine passports" for access to all kinds of public venues, predictions of political disaster ensued. After all, France was the home of the "yellow vests," whose insurgency against fuel taxes came close to toppling his government two years ago.
Macron's new law has provoked some protests, but they have dissipated. During its first two days the mandate sparked a surge in vaccination appointments of 2 million, roughly the equivalent of 10 million in the United States. Across the continent, such statutes have allowed the European Union to rapidly surpass the U.S. in vaccine uptake.
There is only one path forward, and the nation is losing patience while we wait for Biden to lead us in that direction. The public interest demands even stronger action now to save all of our lives — including those of citizens who are resisting science and common sense.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com
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