Fauci: We need vaccine mandates for kids, for air travel, and so much more

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool

If I were Joe Biden, I wouldn’t want one of the most polarizing figures of the pandemic as my pitchman for new federal vaccine mandates.

Especially at a moment when Fauci’s been credibly accused of having perjured himself before Congress.

But Biden’s been warned before that Fauci alienates right-wingers whom the White House is trying to persuade and he’s ignored those warnings. He’s going all-in on having a man whom many populists don’t trust warn them that soon they won’t be able to do anything in public unless they get their shots. And that goes double for their children.

What could go wrong?

Most school districts won’t risk antagonizing wary parents by mandating vaccines for kids, especially young kids for whom the vaccine will be approved only for emergency use once it’s finally authorized. The reward-to-risk ratio for vaccinating that age group will be seen as too small by many families since young children rarely have a problem with COVID. If widespread school mandates are going to happen, it may take another dubious exercise of executive power by Biden to do it. (“Something something Department of Education regulations.”) But I doubt Dems who are already jittery about the midterms will want to see him push an unpopular mandate on suburban moms and dads whom the party is trying to keep inside its tent.

As for Fauci, who said last week that he wouldn’t have offered a testing alternative as part of Biden’s new federal employer vaccine mandate, he’s ready to condone all manner of requirements in the name of building herd immunity ASAP:

Millions of Americans still need to get vaccinated to slow or stop the spread of Covid-19 and getting the pandemic under control could take “many, many” more vaccine mandates, Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said if more people aren’t persuaded to get vaccinated by messaging from health officials and “trusted political messengers,” additional mandates from schools and businesses may be necessary.

“I believe that’s going to turn this around because I don’t think people are going to want to not go to work or not go to college … They’re going to do it,” Fauci told CNN’s Jen Christensen during an interview at the NLGJA, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, convention Sunday. “You’d like to have them do it on a totally voluntary basis, but if that doesn’t work, you’ve got to go to the alternatives.”

There’s good news and bad news for Biden on how mandates are being received politically. A new CNN poll found that majorities support vaccine requirements for workers returning to the workplace (54 percent), for students attending class in person (55 percent), and for fans attending events or concerts (55 percent). Importantly for the White House, all three of those numbers have trended towards the pro-mandate position since April, before Delta became prevalent. Even a significant minority of vaccinated Republicans, 43 percent, now support employer mandates for workers.

That poll was taken before Biden announced his questionable federal employer mandate and all but declared war on the unvaccinated, however. A separate survey conducted by Trafalgar after the federal mandate was announced finds a majority concerned about the implications:

The Convention of States Action said 55.5% think the rules, which require the federal workforce and 17 million health workers to get vaccinated and 80 million workers in private business to get vaccinated or face weekly testing, would set a poor precedent.

Roughly three in 10 said it wouldn’t set a dangerous precedent and just shy of 15% aren’t sure.

The convention, working with The Trafalgar Group polling company, said 58% of independents are worried about the precedent, along with nearly 80% of Republicans and more than 30% of Democrats.

The further removed from a local community the authority for a mandate is, I suspect, the less palatable to people it’ll be. Individual business owners want to require vaccinations among their workers? Fine, Americans say. Their shop, their rules. Local government wants to require it of workers? Well, maybe. State government wants to require it? Uhhhh… Federal government? Yikes.

Biden’s new policy is a huge wager on his belief that the vaccinated American majority is so frantic to end the pandemic and so exasperated with the unvaccinated that instead of saying “yikes” in this case they’ll conclude that a federal mandate is a necessary evil. If he loses that bet, uh oh. And even if he’s right that the public’s on his side, he’ll be blamed by voters anyway if the new policy fails to prevent massive new COVID surges into next year. To the extent centrists tolerate a power grab like Biden’s OSHA gambit, they’ll tolerate it in the expectation that it’ll pay off. If it doesn’t, his attempts to pin the blame for future waves on Republicans for resisting his mandate won’t work. He’s the president, one who got elected promising to shut down the virus. The public will treat the midterms as a referendum on that pledge.

Here’s Brian Kilmeade complaining about the prospect of a mandate for children and demanding to know why Biden doesn’t call on African-Americans to get the shot. Fair enough, but the point of the new policy is that he’s concluded persuasion won’t work on the remaining holdouts, only arm-twisting will. And African-Americans aren’t exempt from the new employer mandate, needless to say.