The first clip below is short but it’s long enough to show you why DeSantis is so successful at a young age. I think the average pre-Trump Republican pol would have gone after Biden’s federal vaccine mandate on constitutional grounds, a subject that was in vogue among committed tea-party activists during the last decade but of little interest to the average blue-collar populist worried about kitchen-table issues.
DeSantis doesn’t dwell on whether the mandate is an abuse of the Commerce Clause or what the proper role of the Tenth Amendment is in debates over public health policy. He cuts to the chase: He dislikes the mandate because it risks putting people out of work. Why should someone have to choose between their livelihood and a medical procedure they’re not sold on? He’s speaking the language of actual voters here — middle-class voters, not the business class.
The thing is, though, that workers don’t have to choose between the jab and their job, at least not under the federal mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. That’s a vax-or-test mandate in which employees need to either get vaccinated or tested weekly.
Is it too much to ask of unvaxxed cops and firefighters that they get tested regularly, especially since they enjoy unusual legal power to forcibly enter a citizen’s home under certain circumstances?
Whether you support Biden’s mandate or oppose it, it’s undeniably divisive. (And not just between left and right.) Even staunch advocates of vaccination like Scott Gottlieb dislike it for that reason. Gottlieb is anxious that the partisan wars over vaccine mandates will mutate into partisan wars over vaccines, and he’s right to be. The president, in the name of increasing vaccine uptake, is risking the sort of polarization that may lead more Republicans to turn against vaccination long-term.
But DeSantis is contributing to that too. His argument against the mandate is an argument against coercion, not an argument against a specific vaccine. He could have said, “I support getting vaccinated for COVID but I recognize that the vaccine is new and that some people have qualms about that, and I don’t think we should be threatening them with unemployment in a circumstance like that.” What he actually ended up saying was more sweeping. Watching the clip, I can’t see why he wouldn’t also oppose school mandates to vaccinate kids against the measles. That’s coercion too. Do we really want to force parents to choose between their child being barred from class and their child getting a shot of which mom and dad don’t approve?
There’s a political spectrum here ranging from anti-COVID-mandate to anti-vaccine-mandate to anti-vaccine. No Republican should be going past the first stop on that train. DeSantis’s logic seems to place him at the second stop.
He addressed the benefits of vaccination in other comments today and seemed to nudge past the second stop towards the third. He’s still pro-vax and acknowledged the vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease but he made a point of telling his audience that it isn’t as effective against transmission as it was initially cracked to be. Which is true, but he understates its effectiveness — an odd thing to do when you’re supposed to be the vaccine salesman-in-chief in your state. Watch two minutes here. His point is that there’s a clear individual benefit from the vaccine but no longer much of a community benefit:
Again, it’s true that the vaccines aren’t as effective at preventing infection against Delta as they were against Alpha and it becomes even more true as a person’s immunity wanes over time. To listen to DeSantis, though, you’d be forgiven for concluding that the protection is negligible. It’s not. Yesterday the CDC posted five months of data on cases and deaths comparing the vaccinated to the unvaccinated. The unvaxxed were six times more likely to get infected and 11 times more likely to die. The differences in cases by age group:
Earlier this afternoon I flagged Ryan Mills’s post at NRO analyzing infection rates in Florida schools. Mills found circumstantial evidence that communities with higher vaccination rates among adults had lower infection rates among kids, probably because vaxxed grown-ups are meaningfully less likely to pass the virus on to vulnerable children. Bottom line: The benefit from the vaccines in preventing infection isn’t negligible, even if it’s not as strong as was originally hoped.
DeSantis wants to make it seem that way, though, because he’s politically invested in opposing mandates. That’s much easier to do when people believe there’s no community benefit to vaccination, merely an individual benefit. If all the vaccine does is give the recipient better odds of avoiding severe illness then what business is it of mine if some cop decides he doesn’t want to get the shot? It’s his body, his health.
But if the cop’s decision affects my odds of getting COVID — or, more likely, his co-workers’ odds or his kids’ odds — then a mandate starts to make more sense. The individual’s bad health choice puts the health of others around him at risk. Why should we prioritize his health over theirs when all he’s being asked to do is get a free shot? DeSantis is loading the dice by pretending that the vaccines don’t do much to prevent transmission, but like I say, he’s a smart guy who knows how to sell his positions much more effectively than Trump does.