Pentagon, NYC: COVID-19 vaccines now mandated after FDA approval

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Almost everyone had pushed the FDA to finally issue an approval for the COVID-19 vaccines operating under emergency-use authorization. I say “almost,” because a vocal minority warned that full approval would unlock vaccine mandates by employers and bureaucrats. Lo and behold, the Pentagon imposed a mandate within a couple of hours of the FDA announcement:

The Pentagon says it will require service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making good on his vow earlier this month to require the shots once the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine.

Kirby said guidance is being developed and a timeline will be provided in the coming days.

This comes as no surprise, since the Pentagon announced two weeks ago that it would take this step once the FDA acted. However, this does call into question the priorities at the Pentagon in the middle of a historic military debacle. Aren’t they a little busy in the middle of “Dumbkirk”? So much for being “singularly focused” on evacuating Americans and our allies out of Kabul.

And on a related note: is this really a good time to pick a fight with the rank and file over a vaccine for a disease that wouldn’t be expected to do much damage to a healthy and fit corps? Morale has to be plummeting in the armed services as this completely avoidable disaster damages faith in the command structure. The armed forces must be worrying about priorities at the Pentagon too.

Not to be outdone, Bill de Blasio also announced a vaccine mandate for all employees in education. He explicitly excluded an option for testing as well:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for all education department staff on Monday for all public schools across the city without a testing alternative, becoming the largest school system in the US to do so.

All school staff are required to provide proof of vaccination of at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, the mayor said.

The Pentagon has an advantage here over de Blasio. They can easily order vaccine mandates for their troops, but de Blasio’s employees are unionized. Perhaps he can force them to vaccinate, but it will take a court to support it. Collective bargaining requires agreement on employment conditions, and it’s a cinch that the teachers union and the other public-employee unions representing workers in the public education system will fight the mandate.

Apart from the CBA issues, however, employers largely can set the requirements for employment, including vaccinations. The Supreme Court’s pass on the issue with the University of Indiana two weeks ago indicated that a lack of FDA approval isn’t even an obstacle to that policy. The Pentagon and de Blasio probably wanted to wait for full approval for some political and cultural cover, but it wasn’t actually a pre-requisite for their employer mandates.

Even so, we can probably expect to see more of these mandates now, especially if the job market keeps slowing up. This makes the most sense in schools, where vaccination mandates have long existed on the students, if not the employees, even if COVID-19 doesn’t move much with children, even in classroom settings. However, we can expect to see private-sector vaccine mandates too. In the service sector especially, businesses have lots of incentives to protect employees and to convince customers that it’s safe to enter their shops. The need to protect distribution chains from serious sidelining events will likely generate more mandates.

That is, of course, not the FDA’s problem; their scope is just to ensure safety and efficacy, not dictate political and economic outcomes. It would be far better for people to take responsibility for themselves, act in a rational manner, and not seek to offload the risks of their choices onto others. Unfortunately, that’s not the world in which we live these days.