Attorneys General from ten rural states are suing to overturn the Biden vaccine mandate. No, not the one requiring businesses that employ 100 or more workers to vaccinate them — the one that requires health care workers in certain facilities that take Medicare and Medicaid funds to be vaccinated.
Yes, reader, even if you think the first mandate is onerous — and you probably don’t, because you know how to read complex sentences — you will certainly agree that doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, et alia who deliver health care to often very sick people, and who get money for it from the federal government (which is, by the way, the reason why they can be prosecuted at a federal level for fraud and other crimes you really don’t want your doctor to be doing), should definitely be vaccinated against the virus that’s killed more than 750,000 Americans and turned the country upside down for a year and a half.
But the AGs in Missouri, Alaska, the Dakotas, et alia filed suit nonetheless, blistered all over with MAGA anti-Big Gummint resentment. They claim that because they would be required to vaccinate, doctors and nurses throughout the heartland will flee, indeed have already fled because some rural redoubts have health care worker shortages — and these shortages certainly don’t have anything to do with a longstanding medical personnel crisis in such places, or with the general shortage of workers, or with health care workers being bullied and threatened and attacked by people who think public health is socialistic satanism; no, they’re due to the threat of vaccination, which medical workers naturally disdain.
The plaintiffs cite administrators who say they fear this vaccine-resister mass exodus (“the hospital has received notice from a majority of the personnel within its behavioral health unit that they will resign rather than submit to vaccination”), notwithstanding that other similar claims (like those promulgated by the NYPD unions) have proven absurdly overblown.
Plus, the plaintiffs say, the mandate is unconstitutional because Congress didn’t issue it — though the U.S. has been in a declared public health emergency since January 31, 2020, which gives extra powers to the executive. Besides, they add, hitching up their simple-country-lawyer suspenders, that mandate codswallop may be all right for city folks, but “whatever might make sense in New York City, St. Louis, or Omaha could be decidedly counterproductive and harmful in rural communities like Memphis, Missouri or McCook, Nebraska.” States’ rights apparently include not only the right to be left alone, but also the right to spread preventable diseases to patients.
And there’s straight-up Fox News bullshit like this:
As recently as July 23, 2021, the White House announced that mandating vaccines is “not the role of the federal government”… [but] in September 9, 2021, amid flagging poll numbers due to the crisis in Afghanistan and on the southern border, the Administration’s policy on federal vaccine mandates underwent a dramatic about-face.
The rustics also feel disrespected by the elitist Biden, who “expressed a dismissive view of States that have used their constitutionally guaranteed police powers to adopt contrary public-health policies,” and they offer a series of Who’s The Real Science Denier ™ claims, e.g. “CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] ignored key evidence indicating that natural immunity effectively guards against the Delta variant. In a study of a large population of patients in Israel…”
Well, guess what: They pitched this at Trump-appointed federal judge Matthew T. Schelp and he bought it, delivering a temporary injunction on the expectation that the plaintiffs will prevail on the merits:
The public has an interest in stopping the spread of COVID. No one disputes that. But the Court concludes that the public would suffer little, if any, harm from maintaining the “status quo” through the litigation of this case.
No harm in the status quo? The country’s less than 60% fully vaccinated, and after the most recent COVID wave new cases are only down 4% in the past two weeks, with Thanksgiving cases not yet showing and Christmas three weeks away. But never mind, Schelp found this line in the mandate rule: “[T]he effectiveness of the vaccine to prevent disease transmission by those vaccinated [is] not currently known.” Aha! And didn’t a bunch of people threaten to quit if you made them take this so-called vaccine? Case closed! Go on now and stick, prod, cut, and stitch those patients without being vaccinated while we wait for the inevitable plaintiff victory, and may the fittest survive.
Later another federal judge — this one also appointed by Trump, how about that — made the temporary injunction nationwide. (He was hearing plaintiffs from 14 states, but decided that “due to the nationwide scope of the CMS Mandate, a nationwide injunction is necessary due to the need for uniformity.”)
Like Schalp, Judge Terry A. Doughty buys the resister resignation whinge, isn’t sure these vaccines are all that helpful (“The rejection of natural immunity as an alternative is puzzling… If boosters are needed six months after being ‘fully vaccinated,’ then how good are the COVID-19 vaccines, and why is it necessary to mandate them?”), and argues that not only is a vaccine mandate unconstitutional without an Act of Congress, “it is not clear that even an Act of Congress mandating a vaccine would be constitutional.”
This gives a whole new meaning to the “Fuck it, then die” cartoon — maybe Art Fuentes should do one with the hypo wearing a judge’s robe.
I have been encouraged of late to see even centrists like Jonathan Chait wising up to the fact that Republicans are literally trying to thwart Biden’s efforts to stop COVID so it will spread among their constituents and they can blame it on Democrats. (I would further argue that Republicans also hope the resulting infections and deaths will consecrate a blood bond among its adherents that will turn them into a true fascist party, but I doubt Chait et alia would join me on that.) The fact that these complaints and rulings sound more like Washington Examiner editorials than respectable legal opinions makes it even more obvious.
But as they get more successful at this national immiseration, that awareness is getting to be cold comfort, and my faith that their followers’ self-preservation instincts will pull them back from the brink at the last minute is weakening. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s starting to look like our best hope is triage — and that, in a reversal of the historical pattern, our cities will become places people gather to get away from the plague.