Biden Administration generals are fighting the last war. Last Thursday, they mandated that large businesses and health care facilities require that their workers get vaccinated for COVID-19. The next day, Pfizer announced an antiviral pill to treat the virus. Pfizer’s pill is 89% effective. A Merck antiviral pill for COVID-19 (with only about 50% effectiveness) is already in use in Britain.
COVID-19 treatment pills destroy any vestige of logic or justification for Biden’s vaccine mandates.
No matter how someone contracts the virus, these pills prevent serious illness – hospitalization and death. With double lines of defense against the coronavirus – vaccination, and, now, these new antiviral treatment pills – mandates have become unnecessary.
Last Saturday, the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay of the Biden business mandate, saying it raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues.”
Quite apart from the legal issues, the mandates ignore science and logic. The logic of vaccine mandates has always been weak and self-contradictory insofar as their implied purpose of protecting vaccinated people from unvaccinated people. If vaccines are effective (95% effective in Pfizer’s case), then, vaccinated people face little risk from unvaccinated people. If the vaccines are ineffective, then why should anyone get them?
Naturally, there are minor exceptions to this logic. First, a vaccine that is 95% effective is 5% ineffective. Second, there have been “breakthrough cases” of largely unknown number and origin. They could represent the 5% ineffectiveness factor, and they could demonstrate that the vaccines are less effective against variants of the virus. Third, studies suggest that the efficacy of vaccines diminish over time.
All three of these minor exceptions are addressed by booster shots – in the same fashion as annual vaccines protect against the seasonal flu. Flu shots are in effect boosters, after the effectiveness of the prior season’s flu shot has waned. Each year flu shots are recalibrated for recurring and potential new variants, and, each year, they are less than 100% effective. There is always some risk.
There is a critical difference between flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines. The flu shots have no back-up. There is no flu pill.
The new antiviral treatment pills for COVID-19 dramatize further the original illogic of mandates: if vaccines and boosters and treatment pills are even more effective – as science and logic say they are, then unvaccinated people pose virtually no threat to vaccinated people. Now add the new corollary: unvaccinated people do not even endanger themselves, because they can take the Merck or Pfizer pill (once approved) if they do contract COVID-19. They don’t even burden the healthcare system – remember “bending the curve” – since the pills are intended for home use.
Now, most Americans got vaccinated as soon as they could. Most consider the vaccines a virtual godsend, an amazing demonstration of American scientific and pharmaceutical prowess. Most don’t really understand why someone would not get vaccinated.
But we live in a free country where people have the liberty to do what they want if they aren’t threatening anyone else, don’t we? Without pretending to litigate the legal issues, it is reasonable to see vaccine mandates as an unnecessary violation of personal liberty. What could be more invasive than the government dictating what you must do with your own body — your life and your life only?
Parsing the issue further, there is a vast difference between government dictating a nationwide vaccine policy and a business – or any organization – establishing an organizational vaccine requirement. If an organization adopts a vaccine requirement, an anti-vaccine employee can quit and find another job.
Beyond these observations, let’s leave the Fifth Circuit to begin the process of sorting out the legal and constitutional issues. The Court ordered the Biden Administration to file its arguments to lift the stay by yesterday afternoon. The Administration did file.
That is not to say that vaccinated people will not contract the virus, nor to say that some vaccinated people will not get seriously ill and die. Until there is a life-long vaccine, such as the polio vaccine, COVID-19 will be a part of our lives.
In the meantime, the real danger comes from a frustrated Biden Administration misusing urgent emergency powers under existing occupational health and safety law to exercise extraordinary powers. For Biden & Co., the already dissipating 20-month-old pandemic is not receding fast enough. That is neither urgent nor an emergency. It manifests that the Administration is fighting yesterday’s COVID-19 battle, without realizing that the antiviral pills have radically altered the war.
Like it or not, COVID-19 has taken hold and is here to stay, but not as the threat to which we were originally defenseless. Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates would set a dangerous precedent. They should never take hold. Who’s to say what the next “emergency” would be that government might use as a pretext to exercise such overriding power.
This column appeared originally on Real Clear Politics