All of Jim’s reporting and synthesizing on the pandemic and vaccination developments have been invaluable — if there were Pulitzer justice, he’d not only have the prize, he’d be clearing shelf space for his second one in a row. But I especially appreciate today’s Jolt, in particular the opening salvo on the FDA’s failure to grant final approval to any of the vaccines at this point.
When I’ve participated in news-show discussions on COVID and the Delta variant in recent weeks, the topic has centered on the government’s legal authority to mandate vaccines. I generally explain, consistent with this column and the discussion I had on Friday with Charlie (guest-hosting for Rich) on our TMR podcast, that the government is surely going to get a wide berth from courts on mandates, provided that they contain exemptions for, for example, religious objectors and people for whom vaccination poses a peril due to preexisting health conditions.
Nevertheless, there is always this caveat: The lack of final approval is very likely to trouble judges.
I’ve found it peculiar that this is not a bigger issue in the public discussion. I’ve been on panels where it seemed the underlying assumption was that we are dealing with long-standing vaccines that have been fully approved and mandated by schools and other institutions for decades. But we are not.
As Jim explains, the lack of final approval is probably less important to many unvaccinated people than they are letting on. To many, it is important; for many others, though, it’s an excuse not to get vaccinated. But I am here to tell you: A court case is not like a cable news-show debate. To a judge being asked to uphold a vaccine mandate, a lack of final approval is going to be a significant fact, not a pretext. By statute, if a vaccine is approved only on an emergency basis, then there has to be an option not to submit to inoculation.
Obviously, there is a big difference between whether the federal and state governments have the legal power to issue mandates and whether mandates are a good idea. My own view on that, for what it’s worth, is that a good campaign of persuasion, rather than the heavy hand of compulsion, would result in more vaccinations, which is the goal.
But even a persuasion campaign has one foot tied behind itself if the vaccine does not have final approval. And the government’s litigating position is going to be demonstrably weaker.
I have a column up on the homepage on a related issue about the (now-lapsed) eviction moratorium, to wit: the fact that government officials sometimes seem to do every job but the one they’re appointed to do. We do not need bureaucrats to be Fauci-like social scientists — Machiavellians who, rather than just leveling with people, calculate that a little white lie here or a little concealment there will induce the hoi polloi to behave as the government believes they should. They should just do their jobs and, when called on to speak, provide full and accurate information — leaving it to us and our elected officials to sort out what it all means.
The White House and the government’s health bureaucracies are never going to come up with just the right story line to sell people on vaccinations. But it is in their power — and only their power — to get the vaccines fully approved. How ’bout maybe starting with that?