The Internet was supposed to be a giant equalizing force that would provide unprecedented access to information and free speech. Instead, it has become a cesspool of conspiracy theories, misinformation, and anti-intellectualism (Mian and Khan). Due to content overload and the public’s increasingly fragmented attention span, political sensationalism becomes the only way to attract viewers. Eighteen months into a pandemic that has already killed 4.7 million people globally, a loud subsection of the U.S. population is burning masks and refusing to be vaccinated in fear that the vaccines contain tracking microchips (“Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic”). Although this group is only a small minority, they have a strong social media presence and germinating vaccine hesitancy and government distrust among the general population. So far, only 54.5% of the U.S. population has gotten fully vaccinated (“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations.”).
President Biden has implored citizens to be vaccinated in the face of rising death rates and a tanking economy. However, on September 9, he abruptly changed his tactics (“Biden’s Bet on Vaccine Mandates”). “Our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he declared before announcing that all federal employees, contractors, and hospitals funded by federal funds would need to get vaccinated (“Biden’s Bet on Vaccine Mandates”). The most controversial aspect of his plan was to have OSHA (Occupational Safety Health Administration) pass an Emergency Temporary Standard and force all private-sector companies with over 100 employees to conduct weekly Covid tests or vaccinate their staff (“Biden’s Bet on Vaccine Mandates”). This affects about eighty million workers in the U.S. The backlash has been swift, and news sources debate the legitimacy and potential effectiveness of Biden’s vaccine mandate.
Conservative politicians have already tweeted that Biden’s executive order is an unconstitutional, unlawful, counterproductive infringement on state power. OSHA has been dismissed as an organ responsible for “chemical spills,” lacking the authority to impose compulsory vaccines. The noisy anti-mask, anti-lockdown conservative minority accuses Biden of violating their personal liberty. The New York Times theorizes that Biden hopes this mandate will improve his poll numbers with the college-educated, vaccinated suburban demographic frustrated with his handling of the pandemic (“Biden’s Bet on Vaccine Mandates”). OSHA is his last chance to fulfill his campaign promise to end the pandemic. However, much more important than political pandering or personal liberty is the question of collective responsibility.
It is commonly stated that a person’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins. Conservatives are obsessed with preserving their personal liberty concerning anti-Covid measures but have no problem passing laws restricting the freedom to pursue a relationship with whichever gender you prefer or a woman’s right to get an abortion. These are issues of personal liberty. Protesting vaccine mandates out of the principle of personal liberty or constitutional overreach is a logical fallacy.
Vaccination is an issue of collective responsibility and the individual obligation “to make their fair contribution to herd immunity…and support policies aimed at realizing herd immunity” (Giublilini). To achieve herd immunity, a certain percentage of the population has to be vaccinated and protect immunocompromised individuals (“Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know.”). In the 1905 case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled that states had the power to institute compulsory vaccination to protect public health (Wills). This is why every state has vaccination mandates for diseases like smallpox, polio, and hepatitis. The stand against specifically coronavirus vaccines has become a politicized partisan issue among the electorate due to media sensationalism and anti-intellectualism. Senators have to appeal to that electorate, and so they are refusing to pass statewide vaccine mandates as they did with smallpox. Along with the individual obligation to get vaccinated, institutions are responsible for implementing policies realizing herd immunity (Giubilini, 2018). Faced with state-level inaction, Biden decided to enact a federal protocol to ensure mass vaccination.
To summarize, according to Giubilini (2018), institutions are responsible for implementing herd immunity measures, and individuals have an obligation to get vaccinated. The conservative electorate is pushing against mandates because of media sensationalism and anti-intellectualism. Senators are refusing to act to please their electorate. Both are refusing collective responsibility, so Biden is attempting to enact federal regulation with the help of OSHA. Whether vaccine mandates will be upheld depends on future judicial and legislative processes.
“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations.” Our World in Data, 2021.
“Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic” Worldometer, 2021.
“Biden’s Bet on Vaccine Mandates.” Apple Podcasts, uploaded by The New York Times, 2021.
Giubilini, Alberto. The ethics of vaccination. Springer Nature, 2019.
Mian, Areeb, and Shujhat, Khan. “Coronavirus: the spread of misinformation.” BMC medicine, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-2.
“Herd immunity and COVID-19 (coronavirus): What you need to know.” Mayo Clinic, 2021.
Wills, Matthew. “What Makes Vaccine Mandates Legal?” Jstor Daily, 2021.