As a Denverite, I’ve slapped my head in embarrassment more than once watching Mayor Michael Hancock make moral blunders, legal and personal.
Hancock’s mandate for all city employees to vaccinate may look civically responsible on the surface, but there are some very real legal, social and political vulnerabilities he opens himself and Democrats up to.
I get that certain vaccine mandates are nothing new and have even been upheld by at least one federal judge. But federal rulings are subject to further legal interpretation and can be overturned. Can you understand the skepticism from people who remember that some of these same pharmaceutical companies have paid billions in health care fraud settlements before? We’re supposed to ignore that and “trust science,” right?
These vaccine mandates put the already-frayed fabric of society in very real existential danger. You don’t have to be a COVID-denier to see that. One can care about those who died, and still protect the rights of those who live. You don’t have to be an anti-vaxxer to be concerned about hard-won rights getting trampled in the stampede away from the delta variant. You can still trust science, and use history to inform you of when dissenting views are unpopular, but right, and must be protected.
People’s fear of these vaccines is legitimate. You don’t need to look to Right Wing Media for the source of concern, it’s right inside your own friend circle. Just check your own Facebook feed. It seems that every unvaccinated person I know has several vaccinated friends with a horror story about side effects. It was certainly all over my own social media: friends reporting second-doses that had them lethargic, nauseous and even hospitalized. I even have a personal friend who actually died suspiciously close to the time of his vaccination with no known prior health conditions. That kind of anecdotal evidence has many people willing to take their chances with COVID-19 itself rather than the vaccine.
The vaccine mandate looms as a crisis over many Coloradans. Now, they’ve got to trod the same scary path, not sure how bad the side effects will be, with fewer people seeming to care than ever. Perhaps they believed that bodily sovereignty was an inalienable right. Freedom and risk go hand in hand. Alas, the state has chosen which risks we can and cannot take.
When passions calm, culture changes and fear subsides, further investigation can produce data that, when considered, move us closer to a more perfect union.
First, there’s a moral difference between a mask-mandate and a vaccine mandate. Putting something on your body and in your body are two different matters. The fact that these vaccines are, at the time of writing this, only emergency-use authorized and still being investigated, this matters.
Now, some will respond that it won’t be long before the vaccines obtain FDA approval. Fine. Why not wait until then? Certainly, people are dying, so we have to act now … which is all the more reason for the FDA to expedite approval if the vaccines are, in fact, safe. Sure, it won’t change the content of the vaccines, but it would likely remove at least some of the hesitancy skeptics are feeling.
Next, requiring COVID vaccine for employment could be a powder keg for worker’s comp. In plain English: Will employers take on the liability for the vaccine side effects and be liable for damages under a mandate?
This vaccine mandate seems to contradict the spirit of Colorado Senate Bill 142, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law earlier this year. The bill explicitly says: “Every person has a right to privacy with respect to personal health decisions, free from coercion or interference from the government.”
So, just because this bill was about abortion, it doesn’t apply to vaccines, too? It’s OK for the government to coerce us into making personal health decisions because of the delta variant? Maybe the language of Senate Bill 142 doesn’t move you. Maybe the potential worker’s comp issues don’t compel you. I’d hope that as a human being with a beating heart, the tragic lessons of the Tuskegee Experiment would open your eyes. You can understand the fear and skepticism of those who remember how the government and Big Pharma conspired to let Black men with a curable condition go untreated for decades in the name of science and experimentation.
From that dark time period, we learned valuable things that only matter if we apply them.
If we don’t apply them, what good is history? What good is precedent? What good is the language in Senate Bill 142? When we feel that society is upending, aren’t we within our rights to point out how we got to a free society in the first place?
Mayor Hancock, Gov. Polis and the Democrats clearly have the power in Colorado. But did they really think this one through? Under the vaccine mandate (which was called conspiracy theory not too long ago) there are conservative police, legislators and teachers who must co-govern and co-exist.
I get that Trump-ism was/is extremely divisive and volatile, but requiring people to get a shot they fear doesn’t help. This mandate is forcing some people to choose between their job, their body and deepest-held principles. COVID is deadly, but do we give up civil society to fight it?
This can’t end well, and the blowback could be severe. These mandates validate every right-wing fever-dream about the “Socialist Dems” Fox News and its ilk have projected onto us. With breakthrough cases on the rise, and masks returning to the fully vaccinated, is this really the way?
Let’s examine who we want to be in this moment, lest history examine this mandate for us. We might be on the way to the right side of it, but we’re certainly not there yet.
Theo Wilson of Denver is a poet, speaker, author and activist.
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