Opinion Column published in the Utah Statesman on August 23, 2021 at 9:33 am
Post Update August 27, 2021
“Show me your papers, please” is the trope associated with the Nazi Party officials during the Second World War who demanded identification from citizens during stops and checkpoints. Today, many American citizens have compared vaccine passports to the same invasion of personal privacy.
The U.S. is at risk of becoming a segregated society through vaccine apartheid, not unlike the racial segregation of the 1900s where “black codes” prevented African Americans from working or attending school. We now see segregation based on vaccination status, where “vaccine codes” threaten ordinary Americans with the risk of losing their jobs, education and being shunned from society.
The CDC reports over 70% of Americans have received at least one shot. However, the push from health officials on mandates is compromising the public trust in America’s health institutions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told USA Today mandates aren’t going to happen at the federal level, but vaccine approval will embolden many groups.
“They can say: ‘If you want to come to this college or this university, you’ve got to get vaccinated. If you want to work in this plant, you have to get vaccinated. If you want to work in this enterprise, you’ve got to get vaccinated. If you want to work in this hospital, you’ve got to get vaccinated,’” he said.
The Biden Administration has also considered withholding federal funding to pressure institutions into requiring the vaccine. Americans may have been adamant about the government providing a vaccine, but they aren’t interested in being forced into health decisions just to make a living or attend in-person education — such is seen with airlines rejecting employee vaccine mandates and the circulation of fake vaccine cards.
The governors of Florida and Texas have pushed back on vaccine mandates and against the criticism of how they’ve handled the pandemic in their states. Gov. Ron DeSantis cited the hypocrisy of restricting American’s lives while allowing daily floods of illegal immigrants, many of whom he said are COVID-19 positive, to cross the southern border freely. Twenty states, including Florida and Texas, have already banned vaccine passports, while other states have advanced legislation. Utah has partially banned vaccine passports, but that may change once the vaccine is no longer in emergency use authorization and becomes approved by the FDA.
As for Utah State University, their current position does not require students or staff to become vaccinated but strongly encourages it. “Encourage but don’t mandate” should be the applied slogan. This is the correct approach that balances both sides. If vaccine passports come to campus, religious and health exemptions for in-person learning must be included, especially since online programs fail to educate students properly.
“Because I have a history of allergic reactions, I was told by my doctor to not get the vaccine,” said 26-year-old Logan resident Josie Arnold, who uses a pacemaker.
The CDC is reporting rare adverse reactions to the vaccines, including increased incidence of myocarditis and pericarditis with confirmed cases in teens and young adults. Younger USU students must be aware of this serious adverse risk and must be allowed to balance the risks and benefits on their own. COVID-19 vaccines may help with symptoms, but they are not a guarantee against infection, as seen in the CDC’s own reporting of 74% breakthrough infection in Barnstable County, Massachusetts.
The National Institutes of Health has also reported lasting immunity in those recovering from natural infection. But these days, just citing this kind of public health data can get you canceled, censored or banned.
How can people make informed rational decisions about their health when they are bullied into compliance?
As Ron Munger, professor emeritus of nutrition, dietetics and food sciences at USU, points out, “The Supreme Court has upheld laws that require student vaccinations in situations that endanger the public health starting with Jacobson v. Massachusetts (over 100 years ago), Zucht v. King in 1922, Prince v. Massachusetts in 1944, and Maricopa County Health Department v. Harmon in 1987. Exemptions based on religious beliefs were allowed.”
Exemptions are key in this debate, especially for the heavily Latter-day Saint Utah. There is precedent where vaccines can be reasonably mandated such as with infectious diseases with high case fatality or transmission rates, as well as the military where you live under the uniform code of military justice and submit to some limitation of rights.
Many in favor of mandates cite court precedent and the “public health imperative” explained in an article published by the CDC: Vaccination Mandates: The Public Health Imperative and Individual Rights. The article compares individual rights to the legality of mandatory vaccinations with diseases like smallpox, polio and measles, but I do not believe the same can be applied to COVID-19. Smallpox case fatality rate was 60% in adults and 80% in infants and children. The case fatality rate of polio was 30% and it maimed or paralyzed many. The transmission rate for measles is over 90%, much more contagious than COVID-19. Up to 20% of diphtheria and 30% of tetanus cases led to death. If we were to see similar rates with COVID-19, there would be 100-200 million dead just in the U.S. Last year, the CDC concluded survivability was above 99% for healthy individuals under the age of 70. Essentially, most people tolerate it like the flu.
I don’t want to cheapen the impact of COVID-19, but I don’t see the statistical significance of COVID-19 mortality meeting the public health imperative to mandate the vaccine.
“My body, my choice” has been the rallying cry on the left for over a decade regarding abortion. At what point do we stand on principle? I believe mandates and lockdowns share a basic logical fallacy that personal safety is a collective responsibility and not an individual one, ultimately harming democracy and human rights. While infectious diseases cited in court precedent can and have been eradicated in some form, it’s unrealistic to hold individuals accountable for transmission of endemic viruses that are unlikely to be eradicated, such as influenza and the coronavirus. While herd immunity for the novel coronavirus is a realistic goal, eradication is not. We should employ a focused protection strategy on the vulnerable that emphasizes personal responsibility and freedom. We should trust Americans to make the right choices for themselves and the larger community.
Post Update August 27, 2021:
Due to the Pfizer vaccine approval by the FDA, the Utah Board of Higher Education voted Friday, August 27 to require student vaccinations across state institutions. However, they will not be mandatory, allowing for religious, medical, and personal exemptions by means of a Utah law past earlier in the year, HB 233. Because of this, Utah State University has announced they will be requiring vaccinations for students starting Spring semester 2022.
Keaton Hagloch is a Public Health major and has a passion for politics and writing. He currently works as an Opinion Columnist for the Utah Statesman.