It didn’t take long into 2022 for a big controversy to hit the news. A U.S. District Judge in Louisiana ruled the Joe Biden administration, “cannot require teachers in the Head Start program to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” according to a Jan. 2 ABC News story.
The judge “wrote that the Biden administration unlawfully bypassed Congress when ordering that workers in Head Start programs be vaccinated by January 31st”. The ruling impacts 24 states that sued the federal government—Wisconsin was not in the suit, in the latest round of court action regarding federal vaccination mandates.
The larger question at stake is the Biden administration mandate on companies with more than 100 employees, now scheduled to start in February. On Nov. 4, 2021, in a press release from whitehouse.gov, the Biden administration called on Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate, “a rule to require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure each of their workers is fully vaccinated or tests negative for COVID at least once a week. This rule covers 84 million employees.”
That initial action didn’t take long to be challenged, and a Dec. 23, 2021, CNET story helped to track the proposal’s fate in the courtroom. On Nov. 5, the “US Court of Appeals for the 5th District granted a temporary stay,” effectively stopping the action, but “on December 17th, a three-judge panel for the 6th District said OSHA has demonstrated the pervasive danger that COVID-19 poses to workers-unvaccinated workers in particular – in their workplaces.”
This ruling set the current deadline of Feb. 9 for those large employers to implement protocols, but in another step, the ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to a Dec. 31, 2021, story in the New York Post, “the justices are scheduled to hear arguments on January 7th in the case against the mandate.”
The same story outlined some of the main arguments from both sides. The Biden administration is “arguing the federal government has the authority because the (recent) spike in cases represents a ‘grave’ danger to workers.” A Republican-led amici curiae—friend of the court—brief stated, “mandatory vaccinations do not stop individuals from contracting and transmitting COVID-19.”
Those 84 million Americans and their employers will be paying close attention to the Supreme Court this week and will await the next step in the mandate debate. Even if not included in the millions directly impacted, millions of other business owners and employees may be gauging their own paths based on the ruling. Rates of vaccination nationwide are a little above 60%, so that would leave perhaps 30 million or so set to be required to test weekly. What impact would 30 million folks seeking weekly tests have on available testing resources? Will employers seek to simply terminate anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated? With staffing shortages running rampant amid a very stunted supply chain, what would be the impact of a large swath of unemployed workers?
If the mandate is allowed to stand, will you be shunned in your workplace, or welcomed? Will the un-jabbed be “outed” and bullied? What additional burden would be placed on already strapped companies to enforce weekly testing? Who will pay for it? We again are posed with the question whether the federal government has the authority to mandate a medical procedure for everyone, or whether individuals are entrusted with their own medical decisions.
Vaccination numbers across the board have largely leveled off with only a small uptick in response to the Omicron variant. Most folks in Wisconsin and across the nation have made their vaccination decisions. Those who have not been vaccinated are largely making that decision a very deliberate one and no amount of coercion or incentive is going to make those steeled in their resolve change their minds.
How much further divided must our society become? We’re seeing new sets of restrictions in places like Chicago and Boston banning unvaccinated people from accessing many basic services and accommodations. Just north of the border, a Nov. 30, 2021, Canadian Broadcasting Company story, showed the orange stickers required to be shown by fully vaccinated people to allow them to board trains and planes in Canada. No sticker, no travel. Is this what will come to the United States? Will you need some sort of badge to participate in society?
You do have to live, or suffer with, the consequences of your own decisions, but they are your decisions. Make those decisions in consultation with your health care providers, or resources you trust for complete information, and chart your path.
Scott Frostman lives in Baraboo, and has roots throughout Wisconsin. Opinions herein are exclusively his own. He believes anyone can make a difference and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.