For months, opponents of Covid-19 vaccine requirements have faced an awkward question for which there is no obvious answer: If vaccine mandates are so outrageous, why have they been common in the United States for generations?
Indeed, The New York Times recently explained that vaccination mandates "are an American tradition," with roots that predate the United States itself. These policies are especially common in schools nationwide, where children are required to receive all kinds of vaccinations before they can attend classes.
The result is an unresolved inconsistency for those fighting tooth and nail against Covid-19 vaccine requirements: If modern society already has plenty of vaccine mandates, and they're widely seen as uncontroversial, what's wrong with defeating a deadly pandemic with one more?
To resolve the incongruity, opponents of Covid-19 vaccine requirements have two choices: They can accept the effective policies, or they can start pushing back against mandates that predate the current crisis. As The Washington Post noted, one far-right congressman prefers the latter.
The clash over mandates is playing out far beyond Texas.... Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an outspoken conservative, tweeted that "Ohio should ban all vaccine mandates."
After seeing the Republican's tweet, I checked the Ohio Department of Health's website, which features an "immunization summary for school attendance." It's not an especially short list: Before children can attend schools in Ohio, they must be fully immunized against, among other things, polio, measles, hepatitis B, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
This is not a new policy. It's existed for years and it's proven effective. But according to Jordan, the state of Ohio should nevertheless "ban all vaccine mandates" — because whether these requirements work well in preventing the spread of serious illnesses is less important than whether these requirements are ideologically satisfying.
The GOP congressman offers an unsettling example, but he may not be altogether alone. It was just a few weeks ago when Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz, who leads a health care committee in Florida's legislature, said the state may "review" mandate policies for other vaccines.
Diaz later walked back his comment, but we were nevertheless reminded of where these arguments can end up. The editorial board of The Miami Herald recently published a good piece along these lines:
[I]n the GOP playbook, vaccine mandates are a new concoction by the freedom-hating far-left and government bureaucrats. Could long-standing vaccine mandates be the next target in Republican-led states like Florida? We once thought that would be a far-fetched possibility. Not so much today.... [T]oday we cannot so easily dismiss the idea that lunacy might prevail against established — and effective — public-health measures.
NBC News' Benjy Sarlin added this week that it seems likely that the United States will "end up with fewer vaccine requirements in some places than we started with before the pandemic" that killed over 700,000 people. That may sound like madness, but it's also painfully realistic.