Mon. Jul 4th, 2022

In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state of Massachusetts in the case Jacobson v Massachusetts, with the decision that the state of Massachusetts was within its rightful power to mandate smallpox vaccines. Because of the widespread implementation of the smallpox vaccine, smallpox is nearly eradicated, and the developments in immunization and public health since Jacobson v Massachusetts means that now, the major causes of death in America are chronic disease and trauma, as opposed to in 1905 when it was infectious disease. In the Jacobson v Massachusetts decision, it was stated that “liberty […is] not an absolute right in each person to be, in all times and in all circumstances, wholly free from restraint.” An article published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2005 about this decision explains that the Court decided that due to the danger to the general public, and the clear “real and substantial relation” was that vaccination had to prevent the spread of smallpox and ensure the public’s safety. Requiring vaccination was not an arbitrary or oppressive measure and achieved its purpose “with as little interference with individual liberty as possible.”

Of course, Jacobson v Massachusetts was a case decided over 100 years ago, and was discussing the state’s power to impose vaccination mandates, not that of the federal government. However, a fruitful debate about federal power and what is and is not constitutional could be had — given that the people involved in the debate are actually making arguments about the topic at hand.

In Volume 121, Issue 9 of the Quad, I saw an op-ed about vaccine mandates published, titled “Biden’s Vaccine Mandate: A Flirt with Authoritarianism.” In responding to this op-ed, I want to highlight the flaws in the article. I will not claim that Foley’s beliefs are wrong, but only that her op-ed does not make a reasoned argument toward her point and instead heavily relies on a stasis-shifting, a tactic of changing what an argument is about. There are many ways one can discuss the detrimental effects of a vaccine mandate. There are debates about its constitutionality and interaction with personal liberties, as well as its economic harm. These are not the arguments Foley presents, and her article is a step away from genuine deliberation.

Foley points out that if the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is so “crucial to saving lives, it does not seem as if it should wait until after the holidays,” and goes on to wonder about our struggling supply chain and upcoming holiday season. Certainly, legitimate concerns for our current economy exist, but this is an entirely separate conversation. If Foley means to claim the mandate purely risks the economy, then this paragraph does not directly convey it, and instead seems to obliquely speculate the timeliness of the mandate with the risk of further supply chain issues — a scare tactic.

Further on, Foley states: “The federal government should not have the power to force the private business sector to carry out their wishes.” This is a legitimate opinion that many people hold, and I encourage a debate about the constitutionality of such a mandate. Jacobson v Massachusetts, as discussed, is an excellent place to start. However, Foley does not go on to elaborate about the concerns of what is and what is not constitutional. Instead, Foley jumps to statistics about vaccines. The issue of what is and is not constitutional is never argued.

Foley also includes a sentence about a Swedish survey focusing on negative effects of the Moderna vaccine. In an Oct. 2021 article by The British Medical Journal about a pause in Moderna usage by Sweden, Norway and Finland, it is explained that myocarditis, a heart condition which is a rare side effect of all mRNA vaccines, was observed in higher rates in boys and young men after they received the Moderna vaccine. Therefore, a pause was put into place to investigate these issues. However, experts assured those recently given the Moderna vaccine had no need to be concerned. In fact, as of Nov. 19, the CDC stated that the evidence of myocarditis risk is “reassuring” and strongly recommends the vaccine due to the much more dangerous effects of contracting COVID-19.

Foley goes on to bring up abortion. Abortion is a hot-button issue that has nothing to do with the public health concerns of vaccination. Bringing it up is a sharp and outrage-inducing stasis-shift. It is easy for a reader with impassioned beliefs to see the mention of abortion and become convinced that their opinion on abortion can also legitimately apply to vaccine mandates, regardless of the differences between the two issues. Vaccine mandates consist of debates about personal liberties, public health and the science of herd immunity. Abortion debates moreso talk about the autonomy of pregnant persons, conception, the rights of a fetus and religious concerns. These are in no way overlapping concerns, and bringing up abortion is not a valid deliberation in this debate.

Lastly comes the comparison to authoritarianism. It is potentially a legitimate belief that vaccine mandates are authoritarianism, but there is no solid justification or explanation given. Name-dropping North Korea and Soviet Russia, places well known for the atrocities committed against their people, is a fear-mongering tactic that can cause a reader to associate those fears with the mandate of the federal government. Scare tactics are not deliberation; they are a demagogic or purposefully inflammatory and biased attempt at convincing a reader.

I encourage debate and disagreement — I want people to form their opinions, and disagree with me and others. Let’s discuss the constitutional precedent, and whether it applies now. Let’s discuss the CDC’s findings and reports. Let’s discuss the reliability of the sources we are citing. Let’s discuss the effects of this pandemic on our economy. But let’s actually talk about it thoroughly. My greatest concern, as an impassioned reader of The Quad and a member of the West Chester campus community, is that other readers will be swayed to relate to opinions they don’t actually understand the logic behind, due to articles like Victoria’s Issue 9 op-ed. In a time where our political debates move farther and farther from deliberation and actual political argumentation, it is more important than ever to me to ensure that we students are able to think and read critically, and hopefully, provide our world a better future — one where this pandemic is far behind us.

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