In the week after the U.S. failed to reach President Biden’s July 4 vaccination goal, the conversation of what to do next has yielded increasingly preposterous suggestions. Slowing vaccine rates have many officials worried that the optimal immunity levels of 85 to 90 percent may not be reached any time soon. But in the flurry of proposals, there is one option of which the American people should be exceptionally wary: a federal vaccine mandate.
Biden set himself a lofty goal when, at the beginning of May, he vowed to get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of adults. Even though the nation fell short of that over the holiday weekend, an impressive number of Americans have still made the choice to get vaccinated. The most recent CDC reports suggest that 67 percent of adults have been inoculated at least once, and almost 50 percent are fully vaccinated. But the surge of the Delta variant and increasing case numbers in recent weeks have many officials and media outlets calling for more drastic measures. Mobile vaccine clinics in workplaces, door-knocking campaigns, and stronger education efforts have all been floated. However, the discussion of vaccine mandates is taking federal intervention much too far.
Earlier this year, Biden rejected the idea of a federal vaccine tracker, but conversations in support of vaccine passports set an unfortunate tone for federal intervention on vaccine choice. Some have taken it to the next level, with Indiana University’s Dr. Aaron Carroll vocally supporting vaccine mandates and the New York Times publishing letters in agreement. This is an absurd suggestion. Vaccination is a personal medical decision, though recent coverage has debated the decision as if it is purely a matter of weighing scientific evidence.
Even as few others have joined the federal mandate platform, local and de-facto mandates like those implemented in healthcare systems should be cautiously considered at this time. These are viable methods of encouraging widespread immunization, but the fact remains that all three COVID-19 vaccines have yet to obtain full FDA approval. While the evidence gives us every reason to believe that the vaccines will eventually receive full authorization, they are still only available under emergency-use authorization. The distinction may be a technicality, but Americans who want full assurance of the safety and efficacy of vaccines should have it.
That’s not to say that Americans shouldn’t already feel comfortable with the vaccine. Despite the emergency status, overwhelming evidence shows the decision of immunization to be a safe and responsible one. But it is still that: a decision. Many who have yet to get the vaccine are not waiting because they never plan to get it. They are simply wary of the possibly rushed development. While some may disagree with that hesitance, that does not invalidate their right to that choice.
To Biden’s credit, his administration has so far opposed efforts like vaccination passports and registries that would enable this extension of federal power. For the sake of the American people, we should hope it stays that way.