Making vaccines mandatory.

Plus, a question about protesters and rioters.
Isaac Saul Jul 28, 2021
️ I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

The debate over mandating vaccines. Plus, a question about prosecuting protesters and a fun announcement about an upcoming event.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Big news.

Next Tuesday, August 3rd at 8pm EST, I am participating in a conversation with Matt Taibbi about media polarization and how the industry is changing. Taibbi is a well known former Rolling Stone journalist with whom I have many agreements and disagreements. The conversation is being hosted by Braver Angels. It’s totally free, and you can register for a ticket by clicking here.

Quick hits.

  1. Capitol police gave emotional testimony about their experiences on Jan. 6, including stories of being beaten, tased and hearing racial slurs. (Associated Press)
  2. About 50,000 migrants who crossed the southern border illegally have been released into the U.S. without a court date. (Axios)
  3. In a Texas special election for the U.S House, Republican Jake Ellzey defeated the Trump-endorsed Susan Wright. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. The Justice Department has declined to defend Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) in federal court on charges that he incited rioters at the Jan. 6 rally. (The New York Times, subscription)
  5. California became the first state in the country to extend eligibility for health care to elderly undocumented immigrants. (Los Angeles Times)

What D.C. is talking about.

Vaccines mandates. On Monday, we covered the return of mask mandates. But an even bigger story may be the increasing momentum of vaccine mandates.

In the last few days, California has announced that state employees must be vaccinated; New York City announced that all municipal workers, including teachers and police, must be vaccinated; the Department of Veteran Affairs announced a vaccination mandate; and then yesterday, news broke that President Biden will announce a vaccine mandate for all federal employees on Thursday.

On Monday, lawyers from the Justice Department said that federal law does not prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring Covid-19 vaccines, even if the vaccines only have emergency use authorization (the authorization the Covid-19 vaccines are under). In June, a federal judge sided with a Houston hospital whose employees sued over a vaccine mandate. Earlier this month, a federal court rejected an attempt by students to block a vaccine mandate at Indiana University. The trend is already unmistakable, and being led by higher education and healthcare providers. More than 580 campuses nationwide will require vaccinations this fall for most students and employees.

As you might expect, this has set off a robust debate about the need for vaccine mandates, their ethics, and whether they would help bring an end to the pandemic. Below, we’ll look at some arguments from the right and left, then my take.


What the left is saying.

The left supports vaccine mandates, though there is disagreement about whether it should come from the state or employers.

In USA Today, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Matthew Guido and Amaya Diana said private companies “must require” vaccines for workers.

“The government and experts have tried education and persuasion. The Surgeon General is leading an all-out effort to combat misinformation,” they wrote. “President Joe Biden has resorted to pleading. What more can we do to get the United States fully vaccinated and put COVID-19 behind us for good? The private sector needs to step up and mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their workers. Vaccine mandates are legal, ethical and, most important, effective.

“The Biden administration cannot and will not introduce a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” they added. “The federal government’s legal authority to issue a vaccine mandate is unclear. More practically, a federal mandate would be nearly impossible to enforce. If someone refused the vaccine, how would the federal government respond?… The private sector needs to fill the void. Private employers are in a better position to institute mandates and have precedent to do so. Most health care facilities, many universities and some employers already require vaccines for the flu; measles, mumps, and rubella; HPV and/or meningococcal disease… The mandates are legal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made clear that federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Courts have backed up employers on this.

In The Washington Post, Michael Gerson advocated for state mandates, saying anti-vaccine bills are “performative libertarianism.”

“Epidemiologists and public health professionals are charged with determining when an individual sickness becomes a threat to the community, then recommending and helping implement actions by the community to limit or defeat that threat,” he wrote. “They live by a slightly modified version of Mill’s principle: Americans have the natural, inherent, bodily right to throw up in their own bathrooms. They don’t have an absolute right to use their body in such a way that the tiny pathogens riding in it spread a deadly pandemic sickness to others.

“Sometimes there are hard calls in determining the appropriate level of intervention,” Gerson said. “The use of vaccine mandates to boost national coverage is not one of them. We’re a nation with vast piles of coronavirus vaccine doses that involve negligible health risk to take, and that go unused for trivial, foolish reasons. Those people who currently refuse the vaccine (without health reasons), and those who encourage others to refuse the vaccine, are causing needless death (whatever their intention). It is not just the right, but the moral responsibility of government at every level to institute policies that move the public toward herd immunity, save innocent lives, and return security and prosperity to our country.”

In MarketWatch, Karen Mulligan and Jeffrey E. Harris made a business case for vaccine mandates.

“Political objections have kept the federal government from going further and imposing a nationwide vaccine mandate,” they wrote. “One recent survey found that only a bare majority of Americans supported proof of vaccination as a requirement for returning to work. The objections range from allegations that the FDA authorization for the vaccines was rushed to that a mandate is an affront to individual freedoms to that vaccination status is not readily verifiable.

“But employers can rely on strong counter arguments,” they added. “One federal court has already thrown out the argument that the vaccines are still experimental. Mandatory vaccinations against other infectious diseases in the past have taken precedence over individual rights. And fulfillment of immunization requirements for school and work are already being certified by healthcare providers in the private sector. The fact that the Food and Drug Administration has issued only an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Covid-19 vaccines should be no cause for delay. These vaccines have been so successful in preventing serious disease and so devoid of serious side effects that they will undoubtedly receive full FDA approval in a matter of months.”


What the right is saying.

The right is divided on the issue, with some supporting employer issued vaccine mandates and others saying a mandate would only make things worse.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested employers can lead the way.

“Some of our friends on the right say workers should be free to make their own decisions, and in a free society that should be the default,” the board said. “No government should order the general public to take a vaccine except in cases of the most extreme health danger. The matter is different for private employers, who should be able to set their own workplace rules. Most have been letting employees choose, but some may decide that mandates are necessary to ensure a safe workplace and reduce absenteeism. It’s an odd libertarian streak that dislikes government orders to individuals but then says private employers shouldn’t be free to choose.

“Some Americans continue to cite the FDA's ‘emergency’ authorization as an excuse not to get vaccinated, and it’s a fair point that government should meet its own approval standards before it orders individuals to take a vaccine,” they added. But “the trials that the FDA required to authorize the Covid vaccines were as rigorous as those for full approval. Each Phase 3 trial enlisted some 44,000 participants, about 50% more than the average trial for a vaccine that the FDA licensed between 2000 and 2011. The FDA required two months of safety data before granting emergency use, which is when side effects for most vaccines appear. So why haven’t the vaccines received full approval? Blame the FDA’s bureaucracy… If the government believes Covid vaccination is as urgent as it claims, it ought to behave like it with its own procedures”

In The New York Times, Ross Douthat argued that vaccine hesitancy abounds outside just the Republican base, and one big solution is worth considering: paying people to get vaccinated.

“Liberals who are convinced that the main problem lies with deluded QAnon moms or intransigent Trumpistas are naturally drawn to punitive solutions: pressure online giants to censor vaccine skepticism to break the spell of misinformation, and find as many ways as possible to mandate vaccinations, to force the intransigent to take their jabs or lose their jobs,” he wrote. “But if the unvaccinated and their motivations are complex and heterogeneous, then these strategies are more fraught.

“Heavy-handed vaccine mandates, meanwhile, might alienate not just Fox viewers but also part of the political middle,” Douthat argued. “To me the only major idea that seems worth considering is the simplest one: We could start paying people to take a vaccine — not just in lottery tickets or even the savings bonds issued by West Virginia but in big fat gobs of cash.”

While the idea is “freighted with its own political problems,” it’s also simple, Douthat argues.

“One payment, rather than a patchwork of public and private mandates. It doesn’t force anyone to get a shot by threatening his or her livelihood,” he said. “There is solid evidence that even $100 payments can move the needle for the vaccine-hesitant. If you paid $1,000 per two-shot regimen — a limited-time offer, good only through October — and 10 million or 20 million people took you up on it, it would be a rounding error in the Biden infrastructure plan, and it would probably pay for itself just in reassurances to a jittery stock market.”

In PJ Media, Rick Moran argued against vaccine mandates at all.

“Vaccine mandates are doomed to fail because the nonvaccinated have yet to be convinced that it’s a life-and-death situation for them,” he said. “But, of course, for some it is. And they should mask up and practice social distancing if they can’t or won’t get vaccinated. But the people already have freedom, most already have jobs, and people are out and about and living again.

“And they didn’t need a vaccine mandate to do any of that,” he wrote. “The danger in this recent uptick in positive COVID tests isn’t that there will be mass death. It’s that radicals like [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio will use the circumstances of increased numbers of COVID cases to reimpose restrictions on people’s lives.”


My take.

It’s a really fascinating ethical debate, and I’m not entirely sure where I land.

One compelling argument is that vaccine mandates should only be issued if all other options have been exhausted. Only about half of the people who have not gotten vaccinated say they “definitely” won’t. The other half either haven’t gotten around to it (they can’t get off work or simply don’t have a fire lit under them) or are open to being convinced by friends and doctors but haven’t been yet. So, have we exhausted all our options? I don’t think so.

Douthat’s argument about paying people to take the vaccine is compelling, though of course there would be understandable outrage from those who are already vaccinated (and didn’t get paid) while also watching their tax dollars go to the vaccine-hesitant. Perhaps a better idea is to insist employers offer a paid day off to low-wage workers to go get vaccinated. That being said, I could see the cash for jab going either way: people could see it as a creepy and intrusive bit of government overreach or they might want the cash and hop on it right out of the gate.

Douthat is also right that it’s not just political. 86 percent of Democrats have gotten one shot, compared to just 52 percent of Republicans. But vaccination rates for independents, Black adults and Hispanics are all around 60 percent. Young Americans are also a huge problem. David Leonhardt has argued that the biggest gap is not race or politics or age, but the class divide. In other words: there’s no simple answer and no single motivation for not getting vaccinated.

What I think I can safely say is a vaccine mandate will not (and shouldn’t) come from the federal government. In this newsletter, I’ve repeatedly criticized government prohibitions on everything from drugs to medical treatments, and I similarly am not crazy about the idea of a vaccine mandate from the government (you might remember I criticized vaccine passports, too). But employers have the legal and ethical justification to demand vaccination status from their employees, to protect both themselves and their business, and I think many of them will.

Amidst all this, though, I also think we should take a deep breath. The last few days — with Delta variant news, breakthrough infections, new (old) mask mandates, and talk of vaccine mandates — have undoubtedly been scary for many. But we know a lot about the Delta variant, and we just got done watching it play out in the United Kingdom (which has just lifted travel restrictions for vaccinated E.U. and U.S. citizens) and the Netherlands, where it burned out quickly and we’re now seeing a rapid decline in cases there. That should give us hope that we are just a couple of weeks away from peak cases in this wave, which we’re seeing as the vaccines continue to protect inoculated Americans from death and hospitalization.

Long-term, though, the biggest fear isn’t a massive Delta wave of Covid-19 death. It’s that the next variant, the one that comes after Delta, or a few generations down the road, is that much more adept at beating the vaccine, causing serious illness or, God forbid, has higher rates of serious illness in children. All of that should be motivation enough for more people to get vaccinated now, with or without a mandate.


Blindspot report.

Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. And one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.

If you’re on the left, you probably missed a story about an Afghan translator who was reportedly beheaded by the Taliban.

If you’re on the right, you probably missed a story about the Newsmax CEO praising Biden for his vaccine efforts.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Can you tell me why the hours-long "insurrection" in Washington D.C. is being so aggressively prosecuted and the months-long occupying and destroying of portions of major cities (Seattle, Minneapolis, Portland, Baltimore, etc) seem to be just fading into history, with the label of “Peaceful Demonstrations” and the perpetrators being caught and released?

— Ken, Galveston, Texas

Tangle: Well, I think there’s an obvious reason that it’s being prosecuted the way it is: because it happened to Congress and in Congress. Clearly, members of Congress are going to be more aggressive and proactive about riots that happen in their place of work, that threaten their own lives and that involve an attempt to stop the results of an election from being certified. The same goes for why the “insurrection” is being investigated and pursued by the FBI and the Justice Department: it’s so obviously a federal matter.

That being said, I think the premise of your question is actually incorrect. Protesters and rioters in Seattle, Minneapolis, Portland and Baltimore are getting charged and have been arrested. It’s actually a bit of a media myth that they’re not being prosecuted (one that I see persist on the right more than the left, though plenty of people on the left also seem to think hitting the streets is low-risk).

We actually know this because news organizations like the Associated Press have examined thousands of pages of court documents to better understand who, exactly, was getting arrested at these protests (in some cases, lots of wealthy white people from out of town). In June of 2020, more than a year ago, the estimated number of arrests of protesters was over 10,000. Are some being released or dismissed without charges? Definitely. In both instances.

In Portland, about half of the cases against protesters have been dismissed, which means the other half are still being pursued. That percentage could very well end up being the same rate of prosecution we see from the Capitol riots, though I expect Capitol rioters to continue to face more serious charges (Portland protesters have done damage to federal buildings, but more generally there’s going to be a difference between looting a Target after marching through the streets vs. breaking down the doors of the Capitol building and trashing the place).

So, in short: a lot of protesters have been arrested and charged. Many Capitol protesters were too. But the jury is still out on how aggressively each will be prosecuted in court (for the former, it’s going to depend a lot on the states where they were arrested) and how many of the charges will end up dismissed.


A note from Isaac…

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A story that matters.

Daniel Hale, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 45 months in prison yesterday after pleading guilty to leaking a trove of documents that shed light on the civilian costs of the U.S. military drone program. The nearly four-year prison sentence was considered another victory in the U.S. government’s ongoing crackdown on national security leaks, especially against those that have shed light on obfuscation or lies from the government. (The Intercept)


Numbers.

  • 69.1%. The percentage of Americans who have at least one vaccine shot.
  • 39%. The percentage of Americans who said a return to their pre-coronavirus life poses a large or moderate risk to their health and well-being.
  • 28%. The percentage who said that a month ago.
  • 70%. The percentage of Americans who think public schools should require vaccines, according to a Politico poll.
  • 56%. The percentage of Americans who believe a business should be allowed to mandate vaccines for employees, according to a CBS poll.

Have a nice day.

Walmart announced yesterday that it was going to cover 100% of college tuition and books for its employees. The Live Better U program was announced this week. Previously, the program had a $1 per day fee for access, but that fee will be removed for Walmart’s 1.5 million employees on August 16. That means any employee will be able to pursue an education without taking on additional debt. Walmart says it is committed to investing nearly $1 billion in the program over the next five years. (FOX59)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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