Fauci on vaccine mandates: I know people like their individual freedom but we're in a serious situation

I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote yesterday that he’s a uniquely poor messenger at this stage of the pandemic if the goal is to persuade right-wing vaccine holdouts.

What better way to convince conservative skeptics than with a “I know you people like your freedoms, but…” pitch?

Eh, I suppose his point is that the persuasion stage is over. It’s mandate time. Employer mandates, to be clear, not government ones.

We can debate which industries should and shouldn’t be under a vaccine mandate but elementary and middle-school teachers are a no-brainer. Until kids under 12 are eligible for vaccination, the best protection we can give them is to surround them with adults who’ve been immunized. If a teacher can’t make that sacrifice for their students, there are lots of job openings in other professions in the United States right now.

Fauci’s comments are part of a debate, confined almost entirely to the right, about which level of government should properly wield authority in setting health policies for schools. The left doesn’t care about that because the left had no qualms about centralized authority; they’re fine with the feds dictating rules to local communities so long as they produce the outcome favored by liberals. Conservatives typically defer to local authority, though, on the theory that the government that’s closest to the community will be more agile in setting policy tailored to its needs. That’s Bill Cassidy’s position on school mask mandates: Let the school board or the city decide. No way, says Ron DeSantis, replying that masks may be bad for some kids. The state government should step in and bar local mandates so that parents can decide. Local governments will respond to that by arguing that piecemeal masking is far less effective than universal masking. Just as we don’t let parents decide what time their children should show up for the start of the school day or even which subjects they learn, we can’t let them opt out of a policy that’s designed to protect every child in class by limiting transmission. Plus, parents can always assert their individual rights in court. They don’t need the state government to step in for them here.

State government or local government? Who should set the rules on mandates? Neither, answers Ted Cruz, a guy who’s positioned himself as a small-government federalist for years. He wants the federal government to step in now and set local health policy:

I can’t tell from that summary whether the “No Vaccine Mandates Act” would have any teeth or not. No one has proposed a government mandate in which citizens are required by the state to be vaccinated against their consent. What’s on the table are employer mandates, in which workers are given a choice between getting the shot or getting a new job. So long as they have a meaningful alternative to vaccination, their decision to get the shot would be consensual. So maybe Cruz’s legislation in practice would be the “No Government Vaccine Mandates Act.”

But I don’t know why a federalist and “constitutional conservative” would take it upon himself to move federal legislation to ban vaccine mandates when state governments, which traditionally oversee health policy, could do it just as well. And I don’t understand why he’d single out the COVID vaccines for special scrutiny relative to other vaccines, even going so far as to say that the ban on mandates would apply even after the FDA fully approves the COVID vaccine. Why not also ban local/school vaccine mandates for measles, mumps, rubella, and the rest while we’re at it? Once the COVID vaccine is fully approved, what’s the case for treating it any differently from any other vaccine?

There’s no case. It’s a simple matter of Ted Cruz pandering to the same anti-vaxxers in the populist base whom Ron DeSantis is pandering to by opposing vaccine mandates of all stripes, including for hospital workers. It’s all about 2024 and not letting a rival get to your right on an issue that’s important to an influential fringe within the GOP.

Here’s the result of the vaccine divide at present, a gap that could be closed somewhat with employer mandates in hard-hit states:

People love to argue about mask mandates because masks have been a culture-war flashpoint for 16 months, but masks are a sideshow. Outside of schools, since younger students momentarily can’t get vaccinated, the only mandate that matters in substantially reducing transmission are employer vaccine mandates. But red-state governors will be loath to order them for state workers like public-school teachers and red-state businesses (at least smaller businesses) will be reluctant to order them for employees for fear of being accused of siding with the libs. If mandates happen, they’ll come from blue-staters like Jay Inslee. Red states will have to muddle through with higher infection rates.

Here’s Cruz campaigning for 2024 votes last night on Fox.