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The Case for a COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
Aerin Lo '22 Staff Writer
February 21, 2021

In terms of improving public health, vaccination is second only to providing clean drinking water. Vaccines, which have saved countless lives, are possibly the most important modern medical advancement of our time. Its breakthroughs even led to the complete eradication of smallpox infection in 1796. With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizing the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, more than six million have received doses — a long-awaited milestone in the coronavirus crisis for some, and a source of worry for others.

The possibility of a federal requirement for the coronavirus vaccine has made people unusually nervous. The word “mandate” may evoke dystopian images of the vaccine police breaking down your door to vaccinate you, but the reality is far from that. Current mandates take a variety of forms.  Most are commonly tied to public school attendance: all 50 states require students to receive some vaccines, with exemptions for medical, religious, and philosophical reasons. Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California Hastings who studies legal and policy issues related to vaccines, told TODAY that “refusing to follow a mandate could mean a fine, tax or other penalty”.

Medical contraindications are always a valid exemption from vaccine mandates. There will always be a small percentage of the population who should not be vaccinated: immunosuppressed patients, cancer patients, people with known allergies to components of the vaccines, and very young children who simply cannot be vaccinated. Moreover, religious or philosophical objections are often recognized in the majority of cases. Hence, a federal coronavirus vaccine requirement would be far from the totalitarian, oppressive measure its opponents make it out to be.

Regardless, a mandate is imperative in order to curb the exponential rate of COVID-19 infection and deaths. January has surpassed December as the deadliest month of the pandemic in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Maintaining high vaccination rates protects the entire population by facilitating herd immunity. An example illustrating its effectiveness comes from Mississippi: the measles vaccination rate exceeds 99%, and they have not had a case since 1992.

Furthermore, a vaccine mandate could accelerate economic recovery and restore stability in the workforce. In response to the latest report from Moderna, of which its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that a faster global economic recovery was feasible. Progress with vaccines and treatments, as well as changes in the workplace and by consumers to reduce transmission, “may allow activity to return more rapidly to pre-pandemic levels than currently projected, without triggering repeated waves of infection.”

However, prospects of a national mandate currently run thin. Despite invoking measures, namely the Defense Production Act, to expand vaccine manufacturing, the Biden administration  recently announced that a plan to mandate the coronavirus vaccine was not necessary. Instead, their hope Americans “will then be inclined to say it’s worth the patriotic duty to go ahead and protect other people.” The administration is betting on a dangerous gamble. It banks on the assumption that everyone would take the vaccine out of good will. In reality, this country of great power is about to slam head-first into a national sentiment of vaccine hesitancy. 

While historical concerns about constitutional violation of bodily autonomy continue to prevail, the present skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines was a staple of the Trump administration’s messaging and its propagation of misinformation. The Pew Research Center says just 60% of Americans are currently prepared to take a coronavirus vaccine, which is not nearly enough to eliminate the deadly virus, especially when a spread of new variants across the continent is threatening to undo our advancement. Only a high enough proportion of individuals who are vaccinated will protect the few susceptible people. This is an “all or nothing” gamble. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And if that means temporarily relinquishing one’s liberty of free will to protect the health interests of a greater community, then so be it. COVID-19’s threat to public health is grave, our confidence in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness is high, and the expected utility of mandatory vaccination is more substantial than its alternatives. It is the patriotic duty of  our President Biden to ensure enough people are vaccinated to defeat the unfaltering virus. A national mandate on the COVID-19 vaccine will rebuild our country toward the great reset.