The good news about the
vaccine mandates is that lawyers and judges will now have both incentive and duty to supply clear thinking about Covid, which has been lacking. The subjects they will necessarily have to tackle include:
Natural immunity. Courts have already been asked to review employer mandates as applied to workers who previously had Covid. Our vaccines were never tested on this group; the immunity they receive after surviving the disease appears to be roughly as good as the vaccine’s. That’s already 150 million Americans for whom mandatory vaccination may be hard to justify.
The age skew. For most people in most circumstances, the vaccine is a good bet and a no brainer for those whose risk from Covid is much greater than any risk the vaccine might pose. But the net benefit declines quickly as you go down the age table. A shot for a 75-to-84 year-old is 22,000% more likely to save a life than a shot for an 18-to-29. For the youngest cohort, the FDA has yet to resolve whether the very slight benefits of vaccination outweigh the very slight risks.
Remember, the question before the courts is not whether vaccines are good or bad, but whether the government has sufficient authority and grounds to overrule personal choice in whether to take them.
Herd immunity. The vaccinated, we now know, are capable of being infected and spreading the virus. The idea that Covid will stop circulating when everyone is vaccinated, alas, is kaput.
The death risk. Headlines last week trumpeted a government finding that the vaccinated were 11 times less likely to die of Covid. Every scintilla suggests this is an underestimate—for a reason now rich with irony.
In a study by the CDC, the likelihood of hospitalization and death were remarkably similar for the vaccinated and unvaccinated once they tested positive. The entirety of the difference rested on how many of each tested positive: 12.3 times as many unvaccinated as vaccinated.
But of course testing is not random. It depends on people coming forward. To acknowledge the study was shaped by this uncontrolled and unmeasured variable—the percentage of infected people who seek testing—is a chance to awaken from an 18-month stupor. As luck would have it, a study from the National Institutes of Health and ignored by the media has arrived to help: In 2020, our testing likely discovered only 1 case in 5; we ended the year with 100 million infections, not the 20 million of the official count.
During this period before vaccines were available, 375,000 Americans also died. Put these numbers together and the vaccines are indeed wonderful; they may well reduce the death risk better than 10-fold. Quite likely the protection they offer is greater even than the study reveals because infected but vaccinated people are less likely to seek testing. But we’re still talking about a reduction in the death rate from 0.4% to 0.04%
For good reason, Team Biden would rather discuss his proposal’s 75% polling approval than whether it stands up to rational scrutiny. The media won’t think through anything anymore. But as the
reports did during the Russian collusion imbroglio, the lawyers may again come to our rescue.
New Jersey’s state health commissioner
was an exception: She said she expected to be infected and so should everyone else.
warned her countrymen that the virus wouldn’t stop until it infected a majority of Germans. The CDC on its website once said all Americans could expect to encounter the virus in the months ahead.
But starting with
on CNBC on March 27, 2020, most politicians decided it was career suicide to speak realistically about the expected course of the pandemic. The virus instead had to be vaguely discussed as if it were an invading team of enemy frogmen that might be tracked down and eliminated.
In a story on Monday acknowledging that Covid won’t be eliminated, it will likely become endemic like the flu, this newspaper generously added that Covid was a disease “that many public-health authorities once believed they could conquer.”
This is not quite right. It was only in the miasma of their rhetoric that they seemed to believe this. Multiple strains of flu and cold-causing coronaviruses once emerged as novel pathogens and now circulate routinely. Any epidemiologist would have told you to expect the same of Covid, at least until they fell insensibly in line with the rhetoric demanded by the career imperatives of active politicians facing the prospect of re-election.
Mr. Biden’s advisers have barely concealed that he’s looking for a culture war boost with his vaccine mandate; it wasn’t a proposal actually to affect the course of the disease. By the time it could go into effect, so many more Americans will have been vaccinated and/or infected as to be moot.
But by getting Covid before a legal forum where facts and logic count, Mr. Biden’s action may belatedly help to improve Americans’ understanding of the historical moment they’ve been living through.
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