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Editorial: Biden's heavy-handed vaccine mandate provides cover for businesses

Editorial: Biden's heavy-handed vaccine mandate provides cover for businesses

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It’s been 18 long months since Nebraska officially recorded its first case of COVID-19.

We believe a couple of things are true about the pandemic, no matter a person’s views:

1. We are exhausted by the illness and the rancor.

2. We wish dearly for the pandemic to be behind us.

Regrettably, it is not. While the latest numbers offer some optimism that the delta variant surge has peaked, thousands of Americans are sickened every day, more than 1,000 of us are dying per month this summer, and new mutant strains of the virus are spreading, carrying fresh risk.

It is in this context that President Joe Biden has taken the heavy-handed step of ordering federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated and, more dramatically, ordering businesses with more than 100 workers to require either vaccinations or weekly COVID tests.

We have long called for voluntary vaccinations and for following sound medical expertise. We had hoped the nation wouldn’t need to confront the controversy aroused by mandates.

But the United States successfully politicized a public health crisis, and forces sometimes disguised as media that benefit from deepening our division continue to spread doubt and confusion. Now childhood cases are rising. The American Academy of Pediatrics last week said childhood COVID cases are up 240% since early July, now accounting for nearly a third of the nation’s cases.

While children are much less likely than adults to be hospitalized or to die from COVID, doctors fear long-term effects for some kids. In any case, we mustn’t be cavalier about our children’s health or dismissive of their ability to spread the virus to adults, including frail grandparents and great-grandparents.

Responsible Americans of all political persuasions recognize that vaccination is the best path we have out of the pandemic. Donald Trump and his family have been vaccinated, as has Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has been a consistent advocate for vaccines. All valid evidence shows that the vaccines are safe. Natural immunity, according to a Nebraska Medicine newsletter last week, “fades faster than vaccine immunity” and “Natural immunity alone is less than half as effective as natural immunity plus vaccination.”

And yet enough Americans are refusing the vaccine that the virus still can spread and mutate.

So Biden’s order bends back the fingers of business to force more vaccinations.

While many Republican politicians have questioned the constitutionality of the order, legal experts generally believe that an emergency workplace safety order is within the scope of authority for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of course this will be litigated.

But, even as the controversy swirls, Biden has provided employers, which had the power to mandate vaccinations, with cover.

Tim Boyle, the chief executive of Columbia Sportswear, told The New York Times his company had drafted a policy mandating vaccines months ago. But, Boyle said, Columbia was concerned that imposing the order could prompt some workers to quit. Biden’s order, though, means “There’s much less opportunity for people to go somewhere they don’t need to be vaccinated.”

Employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace and fear being sued. We will see more employer mandates in short order.

Philosophically, the order is consistent with the harm principle — people are free to act without government intervention up to the point where their actions threaten to harm others. While people may be free to eschew vaccination, they are not free to expose others to a virus that has now killed one in every 500 Americans and left many more with lingering debilitation.

We are weary. We wish many things, including that many more Americans had gotten the vaccine and that the president had not felt he had to take such a dramatic step. His action will, though, even as it is fought out in the courts, increase vaccinations. That’s good for us all and for the economy.


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