David Leonhardt, who is still acting as the unofficial czar of respectable COVID opinions among liberals, is out today with a big defense of vaccine mandates — specifically workplace mandates. The numbers he examines show that coercion brings vaccination rates from around 70 or 75 percent to over 90 percent:
The rationale for workplace mandates: Even in a country that prioritizes individual freedom, citizens do not have the right to harm their colleagues.
One person’s right to a healthy life is greater than another person’s right to a specific job.
— David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) September 30, 2021
I find this statement of principle a little odd. It’s true that a higher rate of vaccination would relieve stress on hospitals, and we should encourage it. But public-health messaging has moved the goalposts a long way in the past few months. First it was “The vaccine protects you.” Now it is “You aren’t safe and you can’t live a healthy life until virtually every person with whom you are in contact is immunized.”
Combine this with Dr. Fauci tip-toeing toward declaring most vaccinated people “unvaccinated” because they lack booster shots, and the end of the public state of exception goes from being imminent to deferred indefinitely.
I don’t think it’s true, either. The vaccine-efficacy data are really convincing that it dramatically lowers your risk of a serious outcome. In many cases those unvaccinated employees probably do have acquired natural immunity, and so pose no threat at all. They should, at the very least, be able to produce antibody or T-cell tests to satisfy the requirements. But, the crux of the matter is that you can live a healthy life right now without hundreds of your co-workers getting fired. The endemicity of COVID going forward means that even if you do fire them all, you will get COVID one way or another in your life, probably multiple times, and you will be fine. You may very well get it from someone who was immunized.
There are two problems with Leonhardt’s principle. 1) Human life can never be entirely protected from the risk of communicable disease. In fact, the spread of some level of disease is what increases immunity — this is why, as people really started coming out of lockdown, many of them experienced worse-than-usual colds or flus. 2) It is distressing how often liberals connect legally necessary “safety” to depriving people of their livelihoods. It’s not a safe work environment — or information environment — if people have the wrong opinion about transgenderism, religion, immigration, the trustworthiness of large pharmaceutical companies, or public-health advice. I guess this is the herd-immunity theory of opinions. We’re not safe until nearly everybody is infected with the same ideology.