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Mapping Public Disagreements about Vaccine Mandates

The intensity of feelings around vaccine mandates makes clear comprehension of what other people actually believe more difficult, and less likely across the board. Mapping out summary positions held on key questions might help a little, at least as a step in the right direction.

As if America needed another excuse to be at each other’s throats, we’ve got one. As the pandemic has worsened again, President Joe Biden’s administration has pursued vaccine requirements.  

Even compared with the widening divisions over race, sexuality, religion, and politics, vaccination is an issue with unique intensity, perhaps due to the life and death nature of it all, as we wrote about previously. Amidst the hostility and fear it can be hard to tell what other people even believe—making it difficult to navigate the confusion.  

Time to find a map?  As we have done in the past with larger pandemic disagreements and disputes over the presidential election, the aim of the map below of the vaccine mandate conversation is not to lay out the evidence supporting different positions—but instead, to simply sketch out as best we can what the key questions are—and the competing positions people are taking.  In this, we are attempting what Charles Taylor once called a “perspicuous (clear) contrast.”

In these heated times, it’s remarkable how much people (on all sides) struggle to understand distinctly and fairly what political opponents actually believe.

That means we try to summarize competing arguments in their strongest and most compelling terms—comparing them side by side, in as fair a light as possible.

In making this attempt, it may be tempting to see these competing views as bifurcated “black and white” contrasts – with no possibility of a middle ground.  That’s not our belief, nor our intent.  Instead, our experience has been that seeing a clear juxtaposition of views allows people to feel out where they stand, and to explore more nuanced views—e.g., “Yes, that’s sort of what I think…but not quite.”

Even so, we’ve found these maps to be remarkably irritating to some people on both sides—with accusations for daring to give a platform to dangerous, and reckless accusations.  

So, to be clear: our goal here is not to suggest that it doesn’t matter which side you believe, or to argue there is no substantial evidence to validate one side or the other, or even to suggest that both sides are equally valid or supported. Rather, we’re just doing our best to capture in summary form the contours of contrasting beliefs that currently exist on the question of vaccine mandates.  

In these heated times, once again, it’s remarkable how much people (on all sides) struggle to understand distinctly and fairly what political opponents actually believe. (So much easier to hear what your favorite critic of Those People tells you they really believe). We’ve been listening carefully to the different arguments being made and doing our best to hear the nuances.  So without further ado, with an aim of encouraging deeper listening (even and especially now) between Americans who disagree deeply on this question—and with an unabashed hope of helping to neutralize additional aggression and hostility—we provide this juxtaposition of views, created by our own staff (that doesn’t entirely agree on these mandates).

1. Wisdom. Are considerations of these widening mandates sensible and reasonable at this point in the pandemic? 

  • Yes, they are. Our leaders are doing anything they can to help the pandemic abate. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and despite their disadvantages, a more forceful response like this seems wise. 
  • No, they are not. Even after all the other restrictions, and the long persuasion and pressure—now comes the coercion. For an American public already on edge—and already divided—this is the last thing we need.

2. Common and normative. Should these mandates be considered normal in the context of historyor abnormal? 

  • Quite normal. Just like we need to wear seatbelts (with consequences for those who don’t), just like other vaccinations are required for school, just like people can’t drink and drive, it is reasonable and normal to make requirements of individuals for the greater good. 
  • So not normal. To force people who feel uncomfortable about an intrusive medical intervention to have to go through with it is far removed from seatbelts and road signs. It’s hard to understand why people would insist this is so normative.

3. The constitutionality of mandates. Are the steps being taken by the Biden administration legal under the constitution? 

  • Yes, they are. As head of the executive branch, the President leads OSHA, which protects workplace safety. Vaccine requirements for businesses fall under the authority of OSHA, and thus the President.
  • No, they are not. The Constitution on its face does not give the President authority to mandate vaccination. If the law authorizing OSHA is claimed to give him this authority, that law should be challenged on a constitutional basis.  

4. The medical rationale for mandates.  Is it not clear that the unvaccinated are driving the increasing rate of COVID-19 cases? 

  • Yes, it is. Given the increased infection rate among the unvaccinated, that conclusion is simple and clear. Although vaccinated people can still get infected, the severity and frequency are far less. 
  • No, it is not. To blame the increased rates solely on the unvaccinated overlooks the full complexity of what’s happening—scapegoating an entire subset of Americans without sufficient consideration of other influences on infection rates. 

5. Discrimination and mandates. Are there any social ramifications for such mandates that should give us pause? 

  • Sure, we need to consider ways to soften the impact. But if the consequences of their inaction negatively affect others, then that’s not just on them. Not only are the immunocompromised already being forced out of jobs and commerce because of refusals to vaccinate, but all Americans are being negatively affected. Better to just limit the negative effects to those who don’t choose the vaccine. 
  • There are deeply troubling ramifications for moving down this path, creating essentially a two-tiered system, with a clear second class.  Medical segregation and discrimination are not too strong of terms.

6. The effectiveness of vaccine mandates. Will there be any positive effects of vaccine mandates on the pandemic overall, and are those effects worth enacting these policies?

  • Yes, to the degree that the unvaccinated have not prioritized the time to find and get a vaccine, vaccine mandates will change this. Vaccine mandates will also help the immunocompromised by limiting interactions with the unvaccinated.
  • No, most of those opting out of the vaccine at this point have had enough time to seriously consider the option. While some will yield to the pressure, for many others the restrictive policies will only exacerbate feelings of anger, despair and fear—while isolating those individuals further and worsening an already polarized American public.  

7. The ethics of vaccine mandates. Is mandating the vaccine a clear moral good, and therefore, ethically justified ? 

  • Yes, protecting the most vulnerable is among our chief moral duties. Vaccine mandates are widely believed to effectively protect the most vulnerable. That makes them deeply moral.
  • No,  coercion is a problematic area for morality. No matter how you feel about the vaccine, forcing others to get it—even contrary to their own individual sense of what is best—should give any of us moral pause.

8. The rights of the immunocompromised. To what degree should the rights of the immunocompromised be prioritized? 

  • The immunocompromised have lost jobs and been pushed out of public places by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that what appears to be a solution is available, they should not have to bear the consequences of those who dissent to avail themselves of it.  
  • The immunocompromised suffer from a sad illness. We should do our best to help them. But we’ve never before stripped rights from the healthy in order to accommodate the sick. It’s a slippery slope and we shouldn’t start now.

9. Mandates from a faith perspective. Should religious believers have any greater hesitance in supporting these kinds of widespread mandates?

  • Not really. No major religion has voiced objections to the vaccineand since faith is all about the greater good, it shouldn’t surprise us to see people of faith willing, and even eager to support such requirements. Latter-day Saint may even feel more comfortable because of direction from senior leadership.  
  • Yes, they should. The sacredness of human agency and respect for conscience is—or ought to be—especially valued by people of faith. Compared to secular observers, anything that coerces conscience should raise red flags for people of faith especially.  

10. Religious/philosophical exemptions. Should exemptions be allowed to such mandates?  If so, how many? And how commonly?  

  • Not many.  No major religion has come out against COVID vaccination, and this becomes too easily a loophole for people to get around the requirements. And that could endanger the entire vaccination effort.  
  • Yes, they should be allowed—for anyone with a conscientious objection, whether or not their priest or religious leader is in agreement. Agreeing to respect someone’s exercise of conscience should not be controversial.

About the author

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