Vaccine mandates

Broad Vaccine Mandates Are a Serious Violation of Civil Liberties

You don't have to be anti-vaccine to oppose these ever-expanding requirements.


Washington, D.C., played host to a political rally this weekend, and one you might not have heard much about in the media. If you did hear something, it was probably negative. I speak, of course, about the anti–vaccine mandate rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

Some who attended spread incorrect information about the vaccine, wrongly warning that it was dangerous or had resulted in widespread death. Robert Kennedy Jr., who is perhaps the leading anti-vaccine figure in American political life, spoke at the event. Robert Malone, an immunologist who pioneered mRNA vaccines and recently gained notoriety after appearing on Joe Rogan's podcast, spoke as well.

Malone is an accomplished man, but he's wrong to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines don't work and cause serious harm. Even today, even with the omicron variant, it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of people who die from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Moreover, the vaccines are not dangerous—they are certainly not more dangerous than the disease itself.

To the extent that this was a rally against vaccination, it was misguided.

But some of the people who showed up on Sunday were making a narrower point, and one that's clearly correct: The government should not have the power to force you to make a private medical decision that has little effect on anyone else. Your vaccination status is, by and large, your business. The vaccines are not substantially blocking the spread of COVID-19: We all know countless vaccinated people who've caught the disease. This is particularly true of the omicron wave: It's great to be vaccinated, but the vaccine is not preventing you or your close contacts from contracting COVID-19. The vaccine is a personal health decision. It protects the person who gets it, and thus it's not really the government's business.

Yet countless municipalities, including our nation's capital—the site of this weekend's protest—are broadly mandating vaccination. In D.C., if you want to enter a restaurant, you have to show not just your vaccine card, but also a photo ID—like a driver's license—in order to prove that the card is really yours.

Note that D.C.'s COVID-19 mitigation policies have been, at all times, foolish. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reimposed a mask mandate to deal with delta, even though the mayor herself had been partying maskless the night before. The district's vaccine mandate took effect last week, ostensibly to deal with omicron, but guess what? Omicron is largely over in D.C. Cases are plummeting.

We will never stop cases no matter how desperately we mandate vaccines, masks, and everything else. The only thing we can control is deaths, but the government shouldn't force this choice on people. You shouldn't have to show identification to participate in social life—to leave your home. Isn't that something Democrats used to believe—or still pretend to believe? Certainly, in some cases, it is:

That's an advertisement from the committee to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. The thrust of the ad is that nefarious, moralizing Republicans are coming between you and your private medical decisions. Is that wrong? Of course. But the Democratic Party, vis-a-vis its leaders at the local level, and its national leader President Joe Biden, is wholly committed to the idea that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of unelected bureaucrats, gets to interfere in your private medical decisions. You can't go anywhere without its permission. That's currently the Democratic Party's central policy commitment: Anthony Fauci knows best. Democratic leaders will make you provide a vaccine card and ID to participate in social life, civil liberties be damned.

It's funny, because in other circumstances, this would be the sort of thing that progressive civil liberties organizations opposed. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has waged war on the concept of voter ID laws—the idea that you should have to provide a photo ID in order to vote.

"Voter ID laws deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country's trend of including more Americans in the democratic process," writes the ACLU. "Many Americans do not have one of the forms of identification states acceptable for voting. These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities.  Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining government-issued photo ID card."

But when it comes to vaccine passports—a roughly equivalent restriction on people's civil liberties—the ACLU has not denounced them. On the contrary, it wholeheartedly supports them.

"We see no civil liberties problem with requiring COVID-19 vaccines in most circumstances," writes the ACLU. "In fact, far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties."

If we lived in a world where progressive defenders of civil liberties were actually doing the right thing and fighting back against vaccine mandates, it would be easier to completely ignore and write off Malone and the anti-vaccine cranks who gathered in Washington, D.C., this weekend. But we live in a world where many of the supposed defenders of civil liberties have sided with the state. COVID-19 mitigation policies grow more unreasonable and oppressive—and more disconnected from reality—with each passing day. What is the ACLU doing about it? Nothing.