The Real Reason Vaccine Mandates are Wrong
The sinking ship of the mandate enthusiasts took on more water last month with the publication of a powerhouse paper by some of the world’s top bioethicists (from Oxford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Toronto).
Drawing on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sponsor-reported adverse event data, the authors claim that booster mandates at universities are wrong because expected net harms for this age group significantly outweigh public health benefits. The authors estimate, for example, that 22,000 to 30,000 previously uninfected adults aged 18 to 29 must be boosted with an mRNA vaccine to prevent one COVID-19 hospitalization. And the cost of preventing that single hospitalization is an anticipated 18 to 98 serious adverse events.
This paper is the evidential manna-from-heaven that those fighting the mandates have been praying for. Thank goodness it came along when it did to undercut the intoxicating public health message that the mRNA vaccines are the only way to save the human race from COVID-19.
But, with all its strengths, I worry that the paper misses the larger point about why vaccine mandates are wrong. It’s still playing at the collectivist cost-benefit game, a morally flawed one with rules that normatively privilege the group over the individual and assign no absolute value to the right of self-governance.
Playing skillfully at the collectivist’s game is just another form of defeat.
Enthusiasts often say that mandates are justified because they prevent actual harm to others while posing either no harm to the individual or only a small risk of harm (from possible side effects, which they take to be negligible by comparison). Weighing the risk of harm against actual harm always yields a net benefit, and therefore obligation, to vaccinate.
But this isn’t true. Being vaccinated under duress or due to coercion constitutes not just a risk of harm but actual harm to one’s bodily autonomy and therefore to personhood.
There’s nothing more defining of human life, and nothing so essential for making life worth living, as our capacity for rational agency, which is as valuable as life itself. Bodily autonomy—the right to governance over one’s own body—isn’t a mere “nice-to-have;” it’s the rational expression of the capacities that make us who and what we are.
As Australian ethicist Michael Kowalik writes (pdf), “Agent-autonomy with respect to self-constitution has absolute normative priority over reduction or elimination of the associated risks to life.”
The person who is vaccinated against her better judgment doesn’t just risk the harm of side effects; she suffers actual and enduring harm to the capacities that make human life possible.
Why don’t mandate enthusiasts see this?
Because the only measure of integrity we understand in our science-obsessed culture is physical integrity: the functional unity of our physical bodies. Our culture understands how viruses wreak havoc in the body but not how moral injury wreaks havoc in the soul. And so we leave no room for the assignment of disvalue to assaults on personal autonomy and integrity.
We don’t need to wait to find out how the cost-benefit balance sheet will look this fall or in 2023 or …. Vaccine mandates are wrong now. They were wrong early in 2021. And they will be wrong at any point in the future when epidemiological or cultural shifts cause us to circle around to this issue again.
Vaccine mandates are wrong not because they fail to generate a net benefit or because the risks to vaccinated persons outweigh public health benefits (though both are true).
They are wrong because they trample on the very thing the noblest version of a liberal democratic society should be trying to create. If our society is to be great, it must aspire to more than safety or, more accurately, the perception of safety. Its starting point must be an absolute commitment to creating the largest sphere possible for each person to live with bodily and mental integrity.
We don’t owe our lives to reduce others’ risks or perceived risks. Because the cost is always too great. The cost is our humanity.
Republished from Epoch.
Discovery Is the Covid Regime’s Greatest Fear
The most recent batch of the “Twitter files” offers brief insight into the Covid regime’s fear that the details behind their censorship and collusion will become public.
On Thursday, Alex Berenson posted a series of email correspondences between Twitter attorneys concerning his 2022 lawsuit against the company.
Last year, Berenson sued Twitter after the company issued him a “permanent ban” for his August 2021 tweet opposing vaccine mandates:
“It doesn’t stop infection. Or transmission. Don’t think of it as a vaccine. Think of it – at best – as a therapeutic with a limited window of efficacy and terrible side effect profile that must be dosed IN ADVANCE OF ILLNESS. And we want to mandate it? Insanity.”
After a judge denied Twitter’s motion to dismiss, the two sides reached a settlement agreement that reinstated Berenson’s account and provided concrete evidence that government actors – including White House Covid Advisor Andy Slavitt – worked to censor criticism of Biden’s Covid policies.
In the emails, Twitter’s litigation team discusses the probability that they will lose the case.
“We believe our chances of success at the trial level are less than 50%,” writes Micah Rubbo, Twitter’s associate director for litigation. She then asks, “Are we willing to litigate and risk the potential public disclosure of *many* documents in order to prevent disclosure of some of them now?’”
Rubbo’s comments reveal Twitter’s primary motivation to settle the case. The company was not worried about monetary damages or regulatory fines; its concerns were entirely reputational. She focused on the risk of potential public disclosures, not the risk of losing the trial. Failure to reach a settlement jeopardized exposing the company’s communications with government officials, law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and other pro-censorship actors in the Covid regime.
Twitter did not settle with Berenson out of remorse for its actions or care for journalistic freedoms. It was a calculated decision designed to mitigate public relations backlash.
Berenson’s reporting did not uncover the documents that the lawyers worried would become public, but the reaction indicates that any concessions would be better than discovery.
Now, Berenson has filed suit against President Biden, White House advisors, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and Pfizer Board Member Scott Gottlieb for orchestrating a public-private censorship campaign against him.
In Berenson v. Biden: The Potential and Significance, we wrote:
The conspirators censored Berenson because he was inconvenient, not incorrect. Their ploy may backfire, however. Berenson v. Biden could unearth more information on the Covid era than his reporting would have ever uncovered.
Discovery and depositions from Pfizer and the White House would be the most valuable insight of the last three years – insight into the power structures that orchestrated lockdowns, censorship, forced vaccinations, school closures, economic upheaval, government overreach, and the merger of corporations with the state.
Berenson’s latest reporting reinforces the potential backfire against the censors. They have jeopardized their regime by banning a tweet that would have been relatively inconsequential. Now, Berenson’s suit threatens to uncover the inner workings of the censorship-industrial complex.
The revelations from Missouri v Biden (covered in a series here) are astonishing enough. They prove the existence of a vast, relentless, deliberate, communicative, and effective hegemon of control that impacts the news and information experience of every person connected to the Internet. It is still in full operation. The only real difference is that we know about it.
All indications are that the judicial system will favor a final and clean decision for free speech, even if that only comes at the hands of the Supreme Court at a much later date. That does not fix the continuing problem now and does not guarantee that government and business will not continue this in the future. But at least for now, there is some reason for hope that the Bill of Rights is not entirely dead.
The Plan: Lock You Down for 130 Days
From the Brownstone Institute
What if the coronavirus pandemic was not a once-in-a-century event but the beginning of a new era of regular deadly respiratory viral pandemics? The Biden administration is already planning for this future. Last year, it unveiled a national strategy to develop pharmaceutical firms’ capacity to create vaccines within 130 days of a pandemic emergency declaration.
The Biden plan enshrines former president Donald Trump‘s Operation Warp Speed as the model response for the next century of pandemics. Left unsaid is that, for the new pandemic plan to work as envisioned, it will require us to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research. It will also require cutting corners in the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines. And while the studies are underway, politicians will face tremendous pressure to impose draconian lockdowns to keep the population “safe.”
In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, it took about a year for governments to deploy the jab at scale after scientists sequenced the virus. Scientists identified a vaccine target—fragments of the spike protein that the virus uses to access cells—by early January 2020, even before the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic.
This rapid response was only possible because some scientists already knew much about the novel virus. Despite heavy regulations limiting the work, the US National Institutes of Health had funded collaborations between the EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They collected bat viruses from the wild, enhanced their function to study their potential, and designed vaccines before the viruses infected humans.
While there is controversy over whether this gain-of-function work is responsible for the COVID pandemic, there is no question this research is potentially dangerous. Even cautious scientists sometimes accidentally leak hazardous, highly infectious viruses into the surrounding community. In December 2021, for instance, the virus that causes COVID-19 accidentally leaked out of a laboratory in Taiwan, where scientists were researching the virus.
A promising vaccine target would be needed immediately after a disease outbreak for the Biden pandemic plan to work. For that to be possible, there will need to be permanent support for research enhancing the capacity of viruses to infect and kill humans. The possibility of a deadly laboratory leak will hang over humanity into perpetuity.
Furthermore, before any mass vaccination campaign, pharmaceutical firms must test the vaccines for safety. High-quality randomized, controlled studies are needed to make sure the vaccine works.
In 1954, Jonas Salk’s group tested the vaccine in a million children before the polio mass vaccination campaign that effectively defanged the threat of polio to American children. Physicians need the results of these studies to provide accurate information to patients.
Operation Warp Speed cut red tape so that vaccine manufacturers could conduct these studies rapidly. The randomized trials cut some corners. For instance, the Pfizer and Moderna trials did not enroll enough people to determine whether the COVID vaccines reduce all-cause mortality.
Nor did they determine whether the vaccines stop disease transmission; a few months after the government deployed the vaccines, researchers found protection against infection was partial and short-lived. Each of these cut corners has since created policy controversies and uncertainty that better trials would have avoided. Because of the pressure to produce a vaccine within 130 days, President Biden’s pandemic plan will likely force randomized trials on future vaccines to cut the same corners.
This policy effectively guarantees that lockdowns will return to the US in the event of a new pandemic. Though the lockdowns did not work to protect populations from getting or spreading COVID—after 2.5 years, nearly everyone in the US has had COVID—public health bureaucracies like the CDC have not repudiated the strategy.
Imagine the early days of the next pandemic, with public health and the media fomenting fear of a new pathogen. The impetus to close schools, businesses, churches, beaches, and parks will be irresistible, though the pitch will be “130 days until the vax” rather than “two weeks to flatten the curve.”
When the vaccine finally arrives, the push to mass vaccinate for herd immunity will be enormous, even without evidence from the rushed trials that the vaccine provides long-lasting protection against disease transmission. This happened in 2021 with the COVID vaccine and would happen again amidst the pandemic panic. The government would push the vaccine even on populations at low risk from the novel pathogen. Mandates and discrimination against the unvaccinated would return, along with a fierce movement to resist them. The public’s remaining trust in public health would shatter.
Rather than pursue this foolish policy, the Biden administration should adopt the traditional strategy for managing new respiratory-virus pandemics. This strategy involves quickly identifying high-risk groups and adopting creative strategies to protect them while not throwing the rest of society into panic.
The development of vaccines and treatments should be encouraged, but without imposing an artificial timeline that guarantees corners will be cut in evaluation. And most of all, lockdowns—a disaster for children, the poor, and the working class—should be excised from the public health toolkit forever.
A version of this piece appeared in Newsweek
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