Late last week, President Joe Biden addressed the country in a televised speech during which he said that he would be directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—a division of the United States Department of Labor—to issue guidance mandating that some 80 million Americans be forced to get the COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs.
Although the president's action appears—at least at present—to be directed toward the private sector, there have already been rumblings among public safety leaders as well as rank-and-file first responders about vaccine mandates and subsequent repercussions.
Let's examine the issue.
Preliminary Personal Disclaimer
Before we delve into this discussion, I must make a few of things abundantly clear.
First and foremost, I'm not anti-vaccine. I got the COVID-19 vaccine after talking with my doctor and my pastor, and made that personal choice for myself. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who are unvaccinated, and I hold each of them in the highest regard for making their own personal choice. "Et vivere, reservate."
Further and finally, I'm not trying to change anyone's mind on the matter. I'm not a medical professional, elected official, or television talking head (okay, I've been on TV a couple of times, but certainly not as many times as Dr. Fauci). I'm a centrist and a pragmatist and a journalist. I'll tell you what I know—or have surmised from the information I've gathered—and leave it to you to take whatever actions you deem to be appropriate.
Okay, with the obligatory preliminaries out of the way, let's take a poke (pun intended) at this thing.
Air Cover and Battle Lines
President Biden's move last week is essentially "air cover" for myriad entities to deflect responsibility from themselves as they attempt to require individuals to comply with mandatory vaccination orders.
"It's not me making you do this," they can say. "It's the president!"
Or in the case of the NYPD, it's Mayor de Blasio.
Or in the case of LAPD, it's the Los Angeles City Council.
Earlier this week, it was reported that lame-duck Mayor Bill de Blasio is threatening to withhold paychecks from officers with the NYPD—as well as other city workers—who refuse to be vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19.
The mayor said during a press conference late last week that if someone ignores that mandate, "eventually, they're not going to be paid."
The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York—the largest municipal police union in Western civilization—said it would file a grievance on the issue.
Meanwhile, across the continent in Los Angeles, the city council last month approved an ordinance requiring city employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early October, unless they are granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Under that mandate, officers would be among the employees who would be required to show proof of a Coronavirus vaccination or submit to a weekly negative COVID-19 test.
Six employees of the Los Angeles Police Department, including a lieutenant, a detective, two officers, and two non-sworn, have filed a lawsuit over the matter. The complaint names the City of Los Angeles, its police chief, the mayor, and an administrative officer.
Similar battle lines are sure to be drawn elsewhere in the United States—it remains to be seen what will result.
Responding to the Risks
The CDC says on its website that for law enforcement personnel "performing daily routine activities" the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is "considered low." However, 242 LEOs died of Coronavirus in 2020, and as of this writing, 154 have died from COVID-19 so far this year. That's a LOT. Some estimates are much higher. The Fraternal Order of Police says more than 644 officers have died of COVID since the pandemic began.
Shortly after the outset of the pandemic in early 2020, OSHA dutifully issued guidance for "workers and employers involved in providing emergency services such as emergency medical services (EMS) and medical transport, fire and rescue, and law enforcement" which has—up to now—served to help public safety leaders protect the men and women in their agencies. Included in that guidance are now-familiar measures such as maintaining social distancing, disinfecting duty gear, and wearing face masks.
But President Biden's move last week is more than just "guidance" and an injected tonic is more than just an inconvenience.
We've all heard the complaints that ballistic vests are bulky, cumbersome, and uncomfortable—yet, officers by and large recognize that the positives outweigh those negatives.
We've all heard the contention that seatbelts can make egress from a patrol vehicle slower and more difficult when a rapid exit is required, but it's generally accepted that seatbelts save lives.
However, ballistic vests and seatbelts have a decades-long track record on which individual officers base their judgement. The COVID vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech got full Approval from the FDA less than a month ago—there exists no study of the long-term effects of the vaccine.
In the short term, there have been more than a thousand reports of cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) happening after receiving the Coronavirus vaccine in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
It's sensible to say that there is inherent risk in taking the vaccine, and there is inherent risk in not taking it.
The question becomes, "Which is the lesser of two evils?"
In unveiling his decree on vaccine mandates last week, the president said that he is "frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated," all but accusing those who have elected to not get jabbed to be "confused about what is true and what is false about COVID-19."
Hearing this president accuse a third of the American population of being "confused" would be absolutely hilarious if it wasn't so terribly terrifying, but that's a topic for another day (and another blog post).
As I have previously written, two seemingly competing, conflicting, and contradicting things can be simultaneously true. This concept tends to drive some people positively bonkers, but it's true.
Consider this parable.
There are two mountaineers seeking the zenith on two different mountains—one on the east and one on the west side of an idyllic valley. They reach the precipice of the peaks around the same time—it's mid-day. The adventurer on the west side calls to the man on the east, "Look at that valley below us and how the shadows of those trees fall from right to left!" The man on the eastern peak bellows back, "It is indeed a beautiful valley, but those shadows fall from left to right."
In truth, the shadows in the middle of that valley fall from south to north.
Does it make sense for officers to do whatever is rational and reasonable to protect themselves from what appears to be an obvious job-related danger? Yes, of course it does.
Do individual people—including individual officers—have dominion over what medicines, vaccines, and remedies are introduced into their bloodstreams? Yes, of course they do.
You haven't asked my opinion, but you've read this far, so I'll give it.
I'm pro-vaccine. I'm anti-mandate.
Two seemingly competing, conflicting, and contradicting things can be simultaneously true.
What's your truth?