Op-Ed: Biden’s Vaccine Idolatry is Not Working
By: Bobby Jindal in the Real Clear Policy
President Biden won the White House promising to resolve the Covid crisis, and prematurely declared victory on July 4th so he could shift attention to his Build Back Better boondoggle. As America’s Covid deaths in his first year exceeded those in President Trump’s last year, liberals are eager to blame conservatives for refusing to “follow the science.” Biden has framed vaccination as self-evident patriotic duty — rather than a personal choice based on risk tolerance and individual circumstances — giving liberals another excuse to feel morally superior.
Today’s Supreme Court hearing on vaccine mandates for large companies and health care facilities provides an opportunity to give Americans the responsibility to make their own heath care decisions. As President Obama opposed health insurance mandates before he was for them, Biden once opposed vaccine mandates. Biden’s employer mandate in September conveniently allowed him to demonstrate executive action. His approval ratings had dropped to their then-lowest levels, thanks to the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and rise in covid cases.
A majority of Democrats and Independents supported the mandate, while over two-thirds of Republicans opposed it, but he wasn’t getting the latter’s votes anyway. He probably thought the surge would end on its own, and assumed he’d get credit for taking aggressive, albeit superfluous, action. Biden undercut his messaging by snapping he was “losing patience” with the unvaccinated, especially since many vaccinated understand their concerns, support religious, medical, and testing exemptions required by the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and do not want them fired.
Even before rules were promulgated, the announcement gave companies an excuse to require vaccines. Though the EEOC, beginning under Trump, advised companies they could mandate vaccination, many feared losing employees in a tight labor market and hid behind Biden’s announcement. Some health care facilities reported difficulty maintaining staffing levels due to turnover caused by the mandates and reduced services.
States have broad police powers they can invoke in emergencies. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1905 case of Jacobson vs. Massachusetts that states can mandate vaccines, but federalism allows states powers denied to Biden. Courts and legislators have curtailed emergency powers the longer the pandemic lasts, as governments have time to enact policies through normal legislative processes. Over half of the states passed laws limiting public health authority. After giving Biden time to pass legislation, the Supreme Court struck down the CDC's ban on evictions started under Trump. Several states have challenged Biden’s mandates in court or banned them via laws and executive orders.
Biden relies on an expansive interpretation of public health authority to justify mandates. When OSHA issued an emergency covid rule in June concerning health care workers, it had previously lost in court five out of nine times it offered emergency standards. The last time it used this emergency authority was 1983. OHSA has to show “employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful.” “Substance” has generally been interpreted as a chemical; a court ruled in 1985 that OSHA can define “grave danger,” but today's court should worry that gives the agency too much power. Challengers to the health care mandate can cite the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling that the Department of Health and Human Services cannot use funding to “coerce” states to expand Medicaid.
Biden’s obsession with vaccines and masks causes him to neglect tests and treatments, seeing them as distractions that will be rendered obsolete by universal vaccination. Vice President Harris admitted they did not anticipate and prepare for more transmissible Delta and Omicron variants. The CDC in June said vaccinated individuals no longer needed to be tested, and the administration failed to approve tests available in Europe. The mixed messaging and uneven demand caused Abbott Laboratories to lay off workers, cancel supplier contracts, and destroy millions of tests. Biden’s mandate that unvaccinated employees be tested weekly creates even more unmet demand. While America has led other nations in developing and securing vaccines, the U.K. and Germany have done a better job providing rapid tests.
Biden belatedly credited Trump for vaccine development, but has not learned the lessons of his public-private partnership. Operation Warp Speed paid vaccine companies to scale up manufacturing during FDA’s review, ensuring adequate supplies upon approval. Biden failed to do the same with tests and treatments. Though Biden signed purchase agreements with Merck and Pfizer for treatments, relatively few doses will be available in coming weeks.
Biden should be giving Americans options for managing the Omicron surge and creating confidence among the vaccinated. He instead defines success in case numbers rather than more pertinent measures like serious cases, mortality, and hospital capacity, undervaluing the loss of freedom, privacy, and normalcy. Overpromising and underdelivering leave the vaccinated disappointed when confronted with breakthrough infections and calls for boosters, masks, and quarantines, and cause the unvaccinated to wonder why they should bother getting shots. Both groups suffer from covid fatigue and increasingly tune out experts. Biden’s top-down approach and repeated cycle of failed promises feed increasing polarization and decreasing trust.
Mindlessly chanting “follow the science” seeks to delegitimize conservatives without considering the merits of their arguments. “Follow the science” did not apply when Democrats questioned vaccines, and public health experts advocated delaying their approval while Trump was in office. “Follow the science” does not apply when serious researchers explore whether herd immunity is a workable strategy, risk-based approaches should differ by age and other demographics, or the costs of eradicating covid exceed the benefit beyond making it endemic and largely survivable.
Biden’s strident rhetoric castigates mandate opponents as opposing science and favoring Covid. He seems more interested in browbeating than persuading the unvaccinated, and ignores the reasonable pro-vaccine, anti-mandate, and anti-school closures position that worked for Glenn Youngkin. One can believe in vaccines’ efficacy without believing them panaceas. Biden should follow the science and adopt a more holistic approach, as his vaccine idolatry is not working.
Bobby Jindal was governor of Louisiana, 2008-16, and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He currently chairs the Center for a Healthy America for the America First Policy Institute.