The Washington Post Sunday
Mr. Biden’s emergency measures
The president’s vaccine mandates are a justifiable step toward a worthy goal.
PRESIDENT BIDEN was skeptical about vaccine mandates last December, but his attempt to persuade people to get vaccinated fell short as the delta variant sent infections skyrocketing. Now, he wants all large businesses in the United States to impose a vaccine mandate on their employees, or have them show a negative test once a week. This significant extension of executive authority over the private sector will almost certainly run into logistical and legal hurdles, and meet political resistance, but the effort is justifiable at a time of national emergency.
The delta variant is running rampant, every single day, on average, taking more than 1,000 lives, putting more than 11,000 people in hospital beds and causing more than 130,000 new infections. The death toll from this pandemic now exceeds all the U.S. military combat deaths in all wars in the 20th century. It just makes no sense to go on being savaged by a virus when an effective tool to fight it is widely available and free. Every possible method should be used to reach the estimated 80 million unvaccinated eligible Americans: persuasion, incentives and, yes, coercion. The summer surge in infections may be easing, and it may take the government weeks to implement Mr. Biden’s plan. But any progress toward getting an additional 20 or 40 million Americans vaccinated will be worth the effort, as will a rollout of boosters that could substantially add to vaccine immunity.
In his more muscular approach, Mr. Biden plans to have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration compel employers to impose the vaccine mandate on their employees. It is the same logic as government mandating construction workers to wear a hard hat. It is the same reasoning as public schools requiring students to be vaccinated against measles and other contagious diseases. Legally, Mr. Biden’s expansive use of executive power is sure to be challenged in the courts. In normal times, we would not want to see such power used for less pressing needs. But the emergency is real.
The president and employers ought to be sensitive to requests from unions that such mandates be discussed at the collective bargaining table — but we would hope that unions, mindful of their members’ well-being, would not erect obstacles. It also would be a relief if Republican governors in Texas, Georgia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Missouri looked for ways to ease the pandemic instead of playing politics with the illness. But we don’t hold out much hope for that. Vaccines save lives; politicians who cast doubt on that, and on masks, prolong the pandemic.
Mr. Biden should give more attention to an identity-based, interoperable vaccine passport. The paper certificates are proving flimsy and easily faked, and it would seem natural for the federal government to take the lead in creating a durable and surefire way to certify vaccination status.
Mr. Biden hopes to bootstrap the nation to the next level of protection from a very destructive virus. His use of executive power is extraordinary and must be temporary. But the goal is worthy and, with vaccines, within reach.