The political fight over vaccine mandates deepens despite their effectiveness

The science is clear: Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, and vaccine mandates are an effective tool in promoting widespread vaccinations.

Still, the battle to inoculate the nation against the coronavirus has reached a fever pitch in recent months. President Biden has focused on getting as many Americans as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, most notably rolling out wide-reaching vaccine mandates for government employees and for businesses with more than 100 workers.

But Republicans have grown increasingly hostile to the notion of mandatory vaccines — despite vaccine mandates existing in the background in parts of the United States since the 19th century — and have parlayed the fight against COVID-19 into a political battle, with vaccine mandates as the latest frontier in the great American defense of freedom and liberty.

These lawmakers decry the Biden administration’s actions as government overreach, but now themselves are telling employers they can’t impose mandates even if they want to.

Take for example Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who earlier this week issued an executive order banning mandatory vaccines within private companies.

“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19,” Abbott wrote in his order.

The order notes that vaccines are “encouraged” for those who are eligible but should remain “voluntary.” Abbott is himself fully vaccinated against the virus and survived a brush with COVID-19 this summer.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — also vaccinated against the virus — has vowed to sue the Biden administration over its federal vaccine mandates. So far, he has made good on his promise to keep such orders out of Florida, having previously fined a county in the state $3.5 million for imposing vaccine mandates on its employees.

“We’re going to make sure people are able to make their own choices. We’re not going to discriminate against people based on those choices, and you’re going to have a right to operate in society,” DeSantis said, painting the issue of vaccines as a matter of civil liberties.

A uniquely American predicament
Most Americans have in fact received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A September Pew Research study found that in August, 73% of American adults said they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a majority said they had received the full course of the vaccine.

Polling by the British market research firm YouGov published on Oct. 13 shows that fewer than half of Republicans — just 46% — support mandatory vaccines for children. That’s a 13-percentage-point decline since August 2020, before the current fight over the coronavirus vaccine erupted.

And when asked about the COVID-19 vaccine specifically, the difference is even more clear. An overwhelming majority of Democrats, 79%, are in favor of mandatory childhood vaccines against the virus and just 9% are opposed. This compared to just a quarter of Republicans who would support such a mandate, versus 63% who oppose it.

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