Opinion

The US is weaker without a vaccine mandate. That’s something the world can’t afford

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The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated a point that has long been true: the Constitutional structure in the U.S. makes it nearly impossible for the government to manage a crisis. Gridlock in Washington and the outsized ability of one or two members of Congress to hold up the president’s agenda means that matters of substance either require an unworkable amount of time to get approval or never get approved at all.

And then there’s the Supreme Court.  

Take, for example, the issue of vaccine mandates. In July, Biden announced vaccination requirements for federal workers. The administration then moved to compel anyone working for a contractor that does business with the federal government to be vaccinated, as well as most workers in health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements. Next, the administration developed rules to extend vaccinate-or-test requirements to companies with 100 or more employees.

In response or following suit, many large corporations issued similar directives, including American Express, Blackstone, Eli Lilly, Gilead Sciences Inc. and Microsoft. Also, 20 states enacted at least limited vaccine mandates, and New York City now requires anyone working in person to have been inoculated.

Cue the legal battles that have become an almost automatic response to executive orders in the U.S. A dozen or so courts around the country issued stays. Fourteen states passed legislation forbidding such mandates. And earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled to temporarily halt the vaccine-or-test requirement for large private companies.         

In the wake of that decision, some large corporations, including General Electric and Starbucks, walked back their plans to require employees to get jabbed, and more are expected to follow suit. Some, such as Boeing, have delayed their mandates while they wait for the legal battles to play out. Others, though, such as Carhartt, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley, held the line.

In other words, the corporate world is in utter disarray.

The disparate and often contradictory requirements of the federal government, state governments, local governments and employers has left the public in a state of confusion. And a lack of clear guidance from the U.S. government since the outset of the pandemic has left Americans feeling afraid and insecure. They are looking for clarity.

Polling shows that the majority of Americans favor vaccine mandates. In a survey conducted by Morning Consult this month, 56 percent of respondents said they believe employers should require COVID-19 vaccinations.

In other countries the picture is much sharper. Austria, Greece and Italy will now require vaccines for adults over a specific age. Other countries, such as France, have enacted measures that make it impossible for the unvaccinated to take part in public life. The Canadian province of Quebec has plans to tax the unvaccinated. And those who reject the jab in Singapore will have to pay their own COVID-related medical costs.

What this will mean in the long run is that other countries will emerge from this crisis with populations that have suffered less, both in terms of physical and mental health. The United States, on the other hand, is weakened. The world cannot afford that.

Americans rightly cherish their freedoms, as do the citizens of many other western nations. But to remain competitive in the world, I believe the U.S. needs to rebalance its priorities and find a new equilibrium that will take into account the demands of public health security and social responsibility.

In my view, the current governmental structure does not allow U.S. leaders to strike a clear path out of crisis. In extreme situations that pose a true threat to the nation, leaders must have the ability—and the power—to take decisive action. I believe that, in these specific circumstances of great danger to the American public, there should be a mechanism that allows the executive branch to override state powers. Such authority should be narrowly defined and should be extended only for a limited period of time.

Exceptional times call for exceptional measures. In rare situations, such as the one presented by the COVID-19 crisis, when people are dying and there is a tool with proven outcomes that would incontrovertibly save lives, allowing politics to continue as usual is not only ineffective, it is immoral.

Sigal Atzmon is the Founder and CEO of Medix Global, a shared value, data-driven health management company that serves millions of patients in 90 different countries.