COVID Shots: The Scientific And Ethical Case Against President Biden's Vaccine Mandate

The federal government has proposed a nationwide vaccine mandate. It's a terrible idea.

After denying that the federal government could mandate COVID vaccines less than two months ago, the Biden Administration reversed course on Thursday. “President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans,” ABC reported, “in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.”

The president added, “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” arguing that the unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.” The proposal requires businesses with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly COVID testing as a condition of employment. Companies could face a $14,000 penalty each time they're found in violation of the policy.

Mandates of this nature are difficult to implement, ineffective, and, most importantly, hopelessly unethical. I've made this case in multiple articles going back to April, so let's briefly revisit those arguments and put together an updated, one-stop-shop case against mandatory shots. [1]

Is a mandate necessary?

Let's start on the president's terms. Do we really need a nationwide mandate? No. More than 80 percent of Americans over 65, those most vulnerable to severe COVID infection, are fully vaccinated. Nearly 65 percent of those 18 and older fall into the same category. In total, more than half the country has had two jabs of an mRNA vaccine or the single-dose J&J shot. These numbers exclude everyone under 12, who still cannot be, and may not need to be, vaccinated. Considered alongside infection-induced immunity, this level of vaccine uptake paints a very encouraging picture: most Americans have some protection against COVID-19.

The media continues to hyperventilate about rising cases, though they've said little about deaths, which are roughly half what they were in January 2021. Excess mortality has also plummeted. The “unvaccinated minority” looks a lot less threatening when you actually look at the numbers.

Will the mandate work?

To the limited extent that vaccine uptake can increase, will a federal mandate accelerate our progress? It will not. You can read my analysis of the studies looking at this question here and here, but the basic point is this: because mandates target already skeptical populations, they tend to engender more opposition than compliance. The fundamental problem is the public's distrust of the government, brought on by endlessly confusing and contradictory pandemic control measures. As I argued in this April story:

Writing in BMJ's Journal of Medical Ethics in January, a pair of researchers explained how contradictory and inconsistent reporting impacts vaccine hesitancy

'Confused messaging and poor preparation from governments at the start of the pandemic may also have undermined social trust. In the absence of social trust, a coercive or incentive-based [vaccine] approach may backfire … It is already apparent that skepticism about the virulence of COVID-19 and strong suspicion of pharmaceutical companies, scientists, and policy-makers has become part of some people’s social and political identities.'

We don't need academic research to understand this, frankly. Legal challenges to the administration's plan are coming, and several states and business have already announced their intention to flout the requirements. Libertarians and conservatives are also calling for “mass noncompliance.” They're particularly eager to highlight the Biden Administration's July statements rejecting mandates.

Reporter: “perhaps the federal government should step in and issue [vaccine] mandates?”

Psaki: “that’s not the role of the federal government”

This was in July.

— Libs of Tik Tok (@libsoftiktok) September 10, 2021

A crucial ethical question

Scientific arguments aside, the mandate is deeply unethical. Our society is built on a belief in self-ownership. There are detailed philosophical arguments in support of this idea, but simply put, I have the best claim on my body because I live in it. I have a mind with which I can determine how to meet my essential needs, like acquiring food and shelter to cite two obvious examples, and the ability to execute my problem-solving plans—and so do you.

At no step in this Natural Law equation is there room for the government to dictate what you do, provided you don't harm anyone else. Where do you think slogans like "my body, my choice" get their legitimacy? If someone forgoes vaccination and subsequently infects another person, the transmission can be tracked and they can be held liable for their actions. But threatening an individual's job with a vaccine mandate before they do any harm is wrong—a gross interference with their right to provide for themselves and their families. We're better than that.


[1] Here's the reading for those interested in such things:

California's Proposed COVID Vaccine Mandate Goes Down In Flames. Good Riddance

Pro-Vaccine Arguments That Don't Work: 'Get A COVID Shot Or You're Un-American'

Mandatory COVID Shots: New York City Requires Vaccines And Sticks Its Head In The Sand

Government Distrust Fuels Vaccine Skepticism. What Can We Do About It?

Mandatory COVID Vaccines: Why Forcing People To Get A Shot May Backfire

Don't Force Parents to Vaccinate Their Kids. Incentivize Them to Do It