Getting Deadly Serious About Vaccines

Plus: The patriotism of Adam Kinzinger

America, we learn today, “is one of the few countries with enough vaccines at its disposal to protect every resident — and yet it has the highest rates of vaccine hesitance or refusal of any nation except Russia.”

Unless we turn this around, the “unvaccinated will set the country on fire over and over again.”

This looming disaster is man-made — a pandemic of vaccine disinformation, demagoguery, hesitancy, and refusal.

Ideas have consequences, don’t they? “Were a wider swath of the population vaccinated, there would be no resurgence — of the Delta variant, or Alpha variant, or any other version of the coronavirus.”

Belatedly, Republican politicians seem to have recognized the dangers of their Kulturkampf recklessness. But the response is largely rhetorical, rather than substantive.

Actually, it’s worse than that. “Across the country,” the Wapo reports, “GOP lawmakers are rallying around the cause of individual freedom to counter community-based disease mitigation methods, moves experts say leave the country ill-equipped to counter the resurgent coronavirus and a future, unknown outbreak.”

There has always been tension between the idea of “freedom,” and the need to balance individual rights with the public interest. Conservatives used to understand that their inalienable and sacred freedom to swing their fists ends where someone else’s nose begins.

That also means that my right to refuse life-saving medicines ends when I begin to infect other people with highly contagious and potentially lethal diseases.

And yet, somehow “Don’t Tread On Me,” has devolved into a license to tread on common sense, decency, science, and human life. So much for “conservative” principle.


So what should a rational vaccination policy look like?

We could start with this — the so-called Nuffield ladder, which describes the options of intervention from doing nothing to full-on government coercion.

At the bottom of the ladder, we have a sort of benign indifference, or an emphasis on merely providing information and enabling healthy choices.

At the top end, the State eliminates choice, enforces mandatory quarantines, or mandates vaccinations. But as we go down the ladder, we see other choices, including restricting choices, creating disincentives for bad behavior, and providing positive incentives for responsible behavior.

Responses should match circumstances. And in the last week, it has become obvious that the milder responses — including relying on the honor system — are no longer getting the job done. Daily coronavirus infections in the United States have climbed 145 percent in just the last two weeks.

Obviously, the surge requires a new strategy. Writing in the Wapo, Dr. Leana Wen writes that the federal government needs to “use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination.”

It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings. And it can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

One obvious starting place: mandating the vaccine for all health care workers.

Medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers on Monday called for mandatory vaccinations of all U.S. health personnel against the coronavirus, framing the move as a moral imperative as new infections mount sharply.

But the solution can’t just come from government. Indeed, most of the action will have to come from the private sector, including businesses, and organized sports.

In a rational world, conservatives should embrace these four guideposts:

  • Accountability

  • Incentives

  • Consequences

  • Stigma

The use of incentives is the easiest one here. But paying people to get vaccinated apparently isn’t enough. There have to be real tangible incentives/disincentives: for example a vaccination requirement to attend high school or college football games this fall would have a marvelously clarifying effect in much of the country.

The marketplace can also provide its own discipline: Want to go maskless to theaters, cafes, restaurants, and classrooms? Get vaccinated.

You have the freedom to make the choice, but if you want that degree from Stanford, Yale, or Georgetown? Get vaccinated.

Across the country, a growing number of other colleges and universities have also said vaccinations will be mandatory for the fall of 2021, including Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, Wesleyan University, Grinnell College, Bowdoin College, George Washington University, American University, Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, College of the Atlantic in Maine, Seattle University, Vassar College, Manhattanville College, Fairleigh Dickinson University and Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

They join a host of other schools that made similar announcements, including Duke University; Brown University; Northeastern University; the University of Notre Dame; Syracuse University; Ithaca College; Cornell University; Rutgers University; DePaul University and Columbia College in Chicago; Nova Southeastern University; Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island; Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado; and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.


There also have to be consequences. As conservatives have always preached, the free market allows choices and risks, but they come with a price. The new NFL policy is something of a model here:

The league is not forcing players to get vaccinated, but lays out starkly the consequences for the players, their colleagues, and their teams if they refuse to do so and get sick.

This also imposes accountability for choices — a principle that conservatives used to embrace with a good deal of relish in other contexts.

And, finally, we get to stigma. We have all been lectured about the need to treat the reckless, the stupid, the stubborn, and the misinformed with more respect. Actually, it’s time to call them out, like the GOP governor of Alabama just did.

Exit take: the alternative?

Every infected person, anywhere in the world, offers the coronavirus another opportunity to morph into a new variant. The more infections there are globally, the more likely new variants will arise.

The United States will be vulnerable to every one of them until it can immunize millions of people who now refuse to get the vaccine, are still persuadable but hesitant, or have not yet gained access. The unvaccinated will set the country on fire over and over again.

The patriotism of Adam Kinzinger

Here is Kinzinger’s full statement:

Not surprisingly:

Quick Hits

1. Trump’s Big Lie Litmus Test

Amanda Carpenter in today’s Bulwark:

Donald Trump had two goals when he went to Arizona for a “Protect Our Elections” rally on Saturday: Pushing the big election lie that led to the January 6 insurrection and using his bully pulpit to play kingmaker and enforcer in upcoming GOP primaries…

“I tell people, this is the biggest issue there is,” Trump said of elections and his Big Lie. “This is bigger than the border. This is bigger than anything. This is the biggest issue.” Republican officials might want their party to look to the future, but as long as Donald Trump is the GOP’s leader, the party will be stuck living his lie.

2. Today’s Democratic Socialists: Not So Big on Democracy

Must read today from historian Ronald Radosh:

Recent comments about Cuba and Venezuela from individuals associated with the Democratic Socialists of America make clear that today’s democratic socialist movement bears little resemblance to its forebears.

As Michael Harrington—the founder of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), which merged with the New American Movement to create the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—told me when I met with him in one of the famous Greenwich Village artist-hangout bars in 1973, his organization held two principles that would never be changed. Those immutable convictions were, first, a strong opposition to totalitarian communism and the Soviet Union, and second, a commitment to defend Israel against its enemies. Today, the latter commitment is long-gone: DSA supports the anti-Israel “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” movement and the Palestinian cause exclusively. And instead of standing in opposition to repressive regimes—including the world’s last remaining Communist regimes—it calls them “socialist.”

Harrington would never recognize today’s DSA as the group he created.

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