“History of health mandates 101” is now in session.
You will recall that our last class discussed accelerating amble to sticks instead of carrots as spurs to COVID-19 vaccination. In my state of Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker has made injections a condition of employment in long-term care facilities, the strategy adopted by major Commonwealth hospitals. Ditto for higher education nationwide (including my employer, Boston University) and for the growing number of Fortune 500s, from Disney to Google to Walmart. President Biden has ordered federal workers to vaccinate or else mask and test. New York City will require proof of vaccination to enter public recreation – restaurants, theaters, gyms.
Today’s conference focuses on the thinking behind any objection to these very reasonable measures.
No one is opposed to exempting those who have medical contraindications to vaccination, or against helping those who have access barriers. Beyond these groups, however, some opponents of vaccines and warrants seem, to put it charitably, not sane. Simply uneducated historians masquerade as historians, claiming that treating people against their will violates a long-held principle of individual liberty dear to any sane patriot.
[S]Some opponents of vaccines and warrants seem, to put it charitably, not sane.
“Non-American,” a doctor says of vaccine passports, while an equally terrified columnist warns that “your papers, please” are “synonymous with fascist states.” The generally balanced acting mayor of Boston, Kim Janey, returned to the misguided comparisons between passports and papers demanded of those oppressed during slavery, Jim Crow, and xenophobic spasms. She is now working on a vaccination warrant for city employees.
Since many who think so define “patriotism” as storm federal buildings to end fair electoral procedures, we shouldn’t be shocked that they think like that. To rob The New Republic, their take on health care, immunization and other mandates is “historically illiterate” because the mandates are “as American as apple pie.”
This story begins with Massachusetts – not the deep blue state, the Puritan colony. Our sober ancestors passed our first quarantine law in 1647, after informal quarantines in the colonies against smallpox.
Our revolt against King George saw the fledgling nation’s first inoculation warrant when General Washington ordered his troops to be immunized against smallpox. (Additional credit for students who can identify the method used at the time: soldiers inhaling or having their arms scratched with material from smallpox pustules.)
Our revolt against King George saw the fledgling nation’s first inoculation warrant when General Washington ordered his troops to be immunized against smallpox.
After independence, states often quarantined travelers from ships on board for a period of time before they could disembark. 19th-century authorities frequently imposed quarantines for outbreaks of smallpox, typhoid, cholera, plague, yellow fever, and diphtheria.
The above is from a Lawfare article on “The Long History of Coercive Health Responses in US Law”. He then turns to a 1905 Supreme Court decision, again involving my state (Jacobson v. Massachusetts), which affirmed vaccination mandatory, in this case for smallpox. This long-standing discovery echoes today: Courts have cited it to uphold state-imposed quarantines during the Ebola epidemic from 2014 to 2016. Today, each state imposes various vaccinations on schoolchildren .
Public health mandates so damning because non-Americans are misinformed. You philosophy majors will recognize the ethical foundations of such coercion, with our COVID-19 crisis Exhibit A: Allowing the unvaccinated to indulge their recklessness has prolonged the pandemic, multiplying the chances of developing even more variants that might not be tamed by our vaccines. Mandates protect the public from selfish people.
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It’s not that all of this matters to the insane guys I mentioned earlier. Uninformed people could, with a little homework, be successful in this class. I am less optimistic about, for example, those who raise so-called religious objections.
Hardly any religion has a beef with vaccines, and the Vatican has made its mark on those developed with cell lines from decades-old abortions. Peel the onion of religious objections and instead you will find outlandish claims – for example, that a hit in the arm confers the satanic “mark of the beast” of Revelation. A minister took to Facebook with a Bible verse-based rejection of this nonsense. Misreading the scriptures is religious ignorance, not religious belief.
We’re also downgrading anti-vaccines that think Big Brother has slipped vague and disturbing ingredients into these life-saving drugs. “You hear this on TV, but seeing patients saying things like this in front of you is really pretty appalling,” says an exasperated and exhausted Florida doctor, whose state has become “America’s COVID epicenter.” , its hospitals inundated with unvaccinated.
With Trump’s backing straddling vaccine aversion, some compare the cult of the defeated president to that of Jonestown, of lemmings marching off the cliff of self-destruction. Others, noting stories of heartbreaking deathbed calls for the vaccine among unvaccinated COVID patients, argue that the populist right is not suicidal, just selfish. By this calculation, refusers harbor a depraved indifference to those vulnerable to COVID, among whom they did not consider themselves until, for some, it was too late.
Our last mission before the bell: to summarize the evidence for and against the two positions. And, if you side with the camp of selfishness, what perversion of Judeo-Christian teaching finds scriptural justification for this vice?
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