Scott Gottlieb responds to Fauci: Nothing's going to stop us from getting together for Christmas

He says this not in a spirit of defiance but as an acknowledgment of simple fact. Nothing’s going to stop Americans from getting together for Christmas.

If he can grasp reality, why can’t Fauci?

This is the way public health guidance should be given, not with scolding about what should and shouldn’t be done but with a polite request for prudence and some recommendations about how to manage risk.

His advice about using rapid tests to make sure everyone’s uninfected before gathering is shrewd. Although, uh, good luck finding one if you live in the United States:

Is Gottlieb right that literally nothing can stop American from gathering from the holidays? There’s one policy change I can think of that would throw a wrench into many people’s travel plans: Vaccine mandates for public transportation, including and especially for air travel. An unvaccinated person could still travel cross-country if they’re willing to drive but few would be able to spare the time it would take on the road to pull that off, so an air-travel mandate would twist many arms. The White House has been debating internally about imposing one for weeks. Democrats have also introduced legislation to make it happen, although those bills have no hope of passing the Senate. Fauci’s all for it, of course; there’s hardly any COVID vaccine mandate he doesn’t support, including California’s controversial new mandate for all students.

The reason there’s no mandate for air travel yet is probably because Team Biden is worried that the public will side with Republicans against it and because airlines will be furious at the administrative burden and revenue hit they’ll take once it’s in place. But more experts are drifting over in favor of it. Ashish Jha, the head of Brown University’s school of public health and a frequent TV presence, wrote this morning about his encounter on a plane yesterday with an unvaccinated woman seated next to him who wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a mask. Seated on the other side of her was an older man with nothing but a cloth mask to protect him. Planes are relatively safe for such a cramped environment because they exchange the air in the cabin every few minutes, but obviously there’s a risk if someone right next to you is breathing out viral particles for hours.

Would the White House dare spoil Thanksgiving and Christmas for the unvaccinated by mandating proof of immunization before flying, though? If Biden’s approval rating were 55 percent, I think they might consider it. When it’s 44 percent, meh.

There’s another reason to be cautious about vaccine mandates for air travel, one articulated yesterday by Gottlieb on “Face the Nation.” Mandates can help improve vaccination rates, he allowed, but the more onerous they become, the more dug in opposition becomes. And not just opposition to COVID vaccines, potentially. If resisting vaccine mandates becomes a cultural signal of freedom and independence, resisting vaccines will soon become a signal too. And bad days for America lie that way:

Gottlieb has already gone on the record in opposing Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. Partly that’s ideological, because he’s a conservative and prefers to have local government take the lead in setting policy. But it’s also prudential, as he explains in the clip. The more vaccine mandates are associated with overreach from far-flung Washington imposed by the “enemy” party, the more one’s Republican tribal identity will require defiance. For the same reasons, I’m guessing he would also oppose a vaccine mandate for air travel, particularly before the holidays.

I think he’s wrong that we’ll see governors running against vaccines in the next election cycle. The media coverage would be withering, and taking that stance would likely be politically suicidal in a country where 185 million people are already fully vaccinated against COVID. But we’ll certainly see governors running against vaccine mandates. It’s already happening. Not a single 2024 Republican candidate will be pro-mandate, I expect, apart from the no-hoper centrists like Larry Hogan. In fact, there have already been small gestures in some red states to fulfill Gottlieb’s prophesy about government turning against vaccinating kids generally, not just for COVID, although those gestures have been withdrawn once the media jumped on them. So far.

No Republican presidential hopeful will be anti-vaccine. But I wouldn’t rule out having a few decide that vaccinating children against any disease, including measles, is a personal choice and therefore schools shouldn’t be allowed to condition enrollment upon it. Gottlieb’s not crazy to worry.

I’ll leave you with this news, which emerged as I was writing this post. Something new for the Fauci flip-flop file.