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Littwin: In the name of “freedom,” America ranks 40th in the world for those fully vaccinated. Seriously.

The question isn’t whether Biden’s 6-part vaccination plan, which includes mandates, is a power grab. (It isn’t.) The question is whether we still qualify as a serious country.

I’m afraid it must be said again. It’s getting harder and harder to continue to claim that we are a serious nation.

As the delta variant wreaks havoc around the globe, the United States has slipped to 40th in the world in the percentage of the population fully vaccinated, and that’s despite having more doses of vaccine available than just about anyplace else. In July, we were 18th on the global list. It was not so long ago that America led the rich G7 countries in vaccination rates. Japan will soon pass us, and then we’ll be last. Can’t America win anymore?

Mike Littwin

That is the scandal, not Joe Biden’s attempt to push the vaccination numbers up. The big controversy in Biden’s 6-part plan is the mandate (which is not a mandate) that those who work for companies with 100 or more employees must be vaccinated — or, and please remember the or — be forced to submit a weekly negative COVID test.

The usual suspects are calling it a power grab — not sure what power is being grabbed by the way — and an assault on the freedom of choice, which amounts to a freedom to infect others. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee says the reason for vaccine hesitancy in America is that Biden is “boring us to death” with science. As I said, we may not be a serious country.

The numbers on vaccines should not be controversial. The boring scientists tell us that we’re 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 if we haven’t been vaccinated. The boring science tells us that if all states had been vaccinated in July and August at the rate of high-percentage Vermont, nearly half those who died in America in those two months would still be alive. At this point, more than 1,500 Americans are dying each day. And the death rate in the low-vaccination states is far higher than in the high-vaccination states. Sorry, Gov. Huckabee, but that’s not science, it’s math.

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The law professors generally tell us that Biden’s plan should hold up in court. The plan relies on OSHA, our worker safety laws, to show that people shouldn’t be forced to work where steps are not being taken to stop the virus, thereby putting workers at great risk.

The logic is pretty clear. Of course, it may not be as clear as one would hope to those on the Supreme Court, despite Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s insistence that the court is not composed of “a bunch of partisan hacks.” If anything, Biden could have taken this further. He has the ability to go beyond masks for those traveling on trains and planes. He could also mandate that passengers be vaccinated — or, yes, show that negative COVID test. Some countries, and a few American cities, are requiring some form of the so-called vaccine passports.

In Colorado, Jared Polis is angry — that’s the right word — that more people can’t get booster shots right away. He’s actually calling for people to lie about their immunity status. And he says that those in the Food and Drug Administration who are holding matters up have  “blood on their hands.” He’s also angry — I’m not too happy myself — that the FDA isn’t moving faster on approving vaccines for those aged 6 to 11. 

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On the other hand, Polis has refused to mandate masks in public schools in Colorado, much less vaccinations for those who are eligible. He’s back in encouragement mode. So, let me just say I’m not entirely impressed with Polis’ outrage.

I mean, look at Douglas County, where the commissioners voted unanimously to end their decades-long association with the Tri-County Health Department because the Tri-County board ordered masks for all students and staff in public schools. In Douglas County, it’s all about the liberty — the liberty for parents to choose to put not just their own kids at risk, but also other people’s kids. And everyone’s kids, as we know by now, seem to be far more vulnerable to the delta variant, not to mention teachers and staff.

I have my own story, which is not about me, but someone far more important, my 6-year-old grandson.

Over the Labor Day weekend, he came down with a cold, a slight cough, a middling fever, and — this is when I got worried — he said he couldn’t really taste his food. The food in question was his daily quota of candy— six M&Ms. You’d be worried, too.

He’s a first grader in Austin. His school district has defied Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s  anti-mandate mandate, which says that school districts — as well as individual schools — cannot require masks or, for that matter, vaccines. This mandate comes as Texas is one of the nation’s hotspots for COVID-19. How hot? The latest news from the Austin metro area was that there were seven adult and four pediatric ICU beds available. The week before, there weren’t any vacant ICU beds.

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Fortunately, most of the large school districts in Texas have defied the governor, whose devotion to choice isn’t exactly universal. It doesn’t apparently apply to, say, a 13-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion. 

So, despite Abbott, my grandson and his classmates must all be masked. His teachers and the school’s staff also must be masked. And on a voluntary basis, all teachers and staff have been fully vaccinated. His school’s classrooms are equipped with a top-of-the-line air filtration system. The kids eat lunch in assigned seats, with glass partitions. Many of the older kids eat outside.

They don’t offer regular COVID testing in the district, but otherwise, they’re pretty much doing all they can.

And yet.

His school had reported one case of COVID. My daughter took Lalo, the grandson with the fever, to the nearest rapid-testing site. Two hours later, she got a text saying the test was negative. A day or two later, the fever was gone, the cough was gone. Taste was back. All that was left was a sniffle or two.

It would be an all’s-well-that-ends-well story, except that, with the delta variant, there’s no clear ending in sight. That’s why Biden reluctantly — finally, I’d say — is forcing vaccine compliance in many of the places that he can legally and encouraging vaccines everywhere else.

More than a quarter of those eligible in America have not been vaccinated at all, and, if you believe the polls, many of them have no intention of changing their minds. Many more have gotten only one Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, which doesn’t provide nearly as much protection as two shots, not to mention the third-shot booster.

Will Biden’s plan work? As you probably heard, Biden spoke from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden Tuesday, pushing his climate-change agenda and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — the cost is spread over 10 years — that he’s trying to get through the Senate. He didn’t mention that the bill would include major rollbacks in the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy, but, in any case, I hope Joe Manchin was listening.

Biden wasn’t here to talk about COVID-19, but as far as I’m concerned, he can’t talk too much about vaccinations as the only way out of the pandemic. If certain politicians think it’s boring to talk about the science behind a virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans, that just might be the cost we have to pay for freedom from COVID-19.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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