Don't bite the hand that jabs you

Don't bite the hand that jabs you
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President BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE’s plan to implement national employment-related vaccine mandates will likely impede the ravages of COVID-19, particularly in hard-hit red states where governors have been unwilling to take the necessary actions to protect the public.

It is essential that the pandemic be brought under control if we hope to have safe schools, businesses and social venues. Already, 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19. The national death toll for COVID now exceeds the 675,000 Americans who died during the 1918 flu pandemic. Many red states, including Texas, Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi, are now experiencing dramatic increases in hospitalizations and deaths.

Despite three safe and effective vaccines, the adult vaccination rates in most red states are abysmal. All but one of the 15 states with the lowest vaccination rates have GOP governors. The nation’s long experience with school-related vaccinations demonstrates that voluntary programs are ineffective. That is precisely why school programs are mandatory — they work.

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Mandatory vaccination programs have also been effective in the private business sector. United Airlines, which implemented a mandate on its own, reports that almost 90 percent of its workforce has been vaccinated. Over 90 percent of the workforce of Fox Corporation, the parent of Fox News, has reportedly been inoculated, despite the disparagement of vaccines by several of its commentators. 

Instead of rising to the occasion and implementing simple, non-intrusive and effective means to protect their constituents, many Republican governors have given in to misinformation campaigns that falsely question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, as well as mask wearing, another proven protective measure. Many of their constituents have unnecessarily died as a result.

Some of these derelict GOP governors may secretly welcome the pending federal vaccine mandate as a way to protect their populations, something they feel politically foreclosed from doing. If the Republican governor of my state, Idaho, were to impose a vaccine mandate, or even a mask mandate, there would be hell to pay with a majority of GOP legislators and a great number of the voters who seem to value their personal choice over the lives of others. Indeed, public officials across the country have routinely encountered threats and intimidation for trying to protect their people from COVID infection, hospitalization and death.

It might be a relief for some of the GOP governors to have the feds step in to require the protection of their people. The Republican governors of Texas and Florida have gotten so far out on their respective limbs with their efforts to ban mask mandates, while offering only lukewarm words of encouragement for voluntary vaccination, that they may secretly welcome the federal vaccine mandate. After all, more universal vaccination is the only feasible way out of the pandemic for all concerned. 

Vaccine mandates would also provide employers cover to make their workplaces safer for workers and customers. They can simply point to the president as the scoundrel who made them protect their people from hospitalization or death. And, of course, that is the tactic already being employed by several red-state governors.

While the vaccine mandate will undoubtedly make their constituents safer, these governors have been raising the roof and threatening to sue the Biden administration for what they claim is an unprecedented violation of U.S. law. They ought to read the law, particularly the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which was signed into law in December of 1970 by a Republican president. It received the support of all but one Republican senator. OSHA is tailor-made for this serious workplace threat, and the vaccination mandate for employers with 100 or more workers will likely be upheld in any fair court action.

In all, however, the mandate works quite well for these red-state governors. It will protect their constituents, even as they make hay with their base by railing against it.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and twelve years on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017).