We Should Oppose COVID-19 Mandates

“In ancient times, when persuasion played the role of public force, eloquence was necessary. Of what use would it be today, when public force has replaced persuasion. One needs neither art nor metaphor to say such is my pleasure.”—Jean Jacques Rousseau

The frenzied COVID-19 hysteria of the last 18 months has not abated even after many countries have fully reopened. Indeed, the tenor of the propaganda has accentuated and a new target has been affixed onto the backs of the “unvaccinated.” Liberals, anarchists, socialists and left Communists are all in agreement that not only is the vaccine an unquestionable social good, it is so much so that even those traditionally opposed to state coercion now agree that a mandate, de jure and/or de facto, is in order. 

For these thinkers, the case is obvious. First, COVID-19 is a virus that causes immense harm to society. Therefore, the socially responsible thing to do is to get vaccinated. QED, those who are refusing to vaccinate themselves are anti-social elements who must be forced into line. The position in favour of vaccine mandates is presented as an undisputable societal good and scientifically sound approach. This veneer of objectivity only barely hides the faulty premises undergirding the case. In the final analysis, a vaccine mandate is yet another piece of COVID-19 coercion designed to support the ruling class in furthering the exploitation of workers everywhere.

Does “the science” really support a vaccine mandate?

The plain truth is that all of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are under ongoing experimentation. In normal times, none of the major vaccines on offer would have been widely administered given their current stage in clinical trial testing. They are only being allowed to be widely administered under various states’ expedited authorizations, including the FDA’s “Emergency Use Authorization.” 

The FDA would normally require two years of safety data before a vaccine would be granted full licensure. After Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services and former pharmaceutical company lobbyist Alex Azar declared a severe enough public health emergency on February 4th, 2020, the pretext was granted to accelerate and curtail the regular drug development and safety testing process. But as previously demonstrated on the Bellows, the designation of this disease as an “emergency” requiring the extraordinary and blanket measures we experienced during this year is dubious at best. Even the designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic is debatable. 

For all except the truest of believers, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the widespread application of other COVID-19 health protocols, such as lockdowns and masking, was both unnecessary and ineffective. A blanket administration of these vaccines, including to those at little risk of contracting a serious case of COVID-19, seems to be useless as well. 

Any hope in this vaccine delivering herd immunity or “stopping the spread” has been voided. The FDA has already announced that boosters will be advised for “most” Americans after only 8 months. Director of the CDC, Rochelle P. Walensky, has recently stated that “reports from our international colleagues, including Israel, suggest increased risk of severe disease amongst those vaccinated early. Given this evidence, we are concerned that the current strong protection against severe infection, hospitalization, and death could decrease in the months ahead.” Thus, from a strictly scientific standpoint, the COVID-19 vaccines cannot yield a clear societal or collective benefit through diminishing the spread of COVID-19 on any significant time span, except through the use of an untold number of booster shots. Some may argue that a vaccine mandate “protects” hospital capacity—but it is an argument tailored to support and affirm the artificial scarcity of healthcare services. 

All evidence points to the fact that the vaccine likely has benefits for individuals at a high risk from COVID-19. Those who deem that the vaccines’ protection to be worth it may also opt to take the vaccine. And this is what the Emergency Use Authorization provides—the option to take the vaccine to all who would want it. A mandate would force vaccination on those groups, including those who have already recovered from COVID-19 and therefore have superior protection than what the vaccines can provide. For these people, the benefit of the vaccine is uncertain.

All vaccines come with risks, however small, and in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, the long-term effects are still unknown. But boosters can compound those risks. It is perfectly possible that the vaccines may be a net harm to several age groups who face little to no danger from a COVID-19 infection. But should individuals accept the liability, even if for a hypothetical collective benefit? 

Protecting Capitalists’ Collective Good

Capitalism is inherently a class society, where the working class’s interests are irreconcilably antagonistic to that of capitalists. The working class, through decades of struggle, has extracted better living standards and health care for its own good. But the “good” of the collective working class is always under attack by the desires of capitalists to fulfill their own collective interest—profit maximization. As such, every public health policy is a terrain of class warfare. 

Yet this truth is constantly forgotten by those on the left, who continue to see the state, and therefore state-driven initiatives, as a good for the people, instead of a site of fierce class struggle. This is typified in an article written by Branko Marcetic in Jacobin. Marcetic makes the case that vaccination mandates are not only established practice, not only a negligible infringement given more severe ones that exist under capitalism, but can be thoughtfully designed in any case. Leaving aside the logical fallacies that Marcetic uses to construct his argument, there is a fatal flaw in it: the complete absence of any class analysis. State-mandated vaccinations, in the context of weak working-class power, means that very little good, if any, will be derived for most people. 

Moral appeals from capitalists, no matter how sincere, epitomize this class dynamic. Having identified mass vaccination as their way of returning to “normal,” such appeals are used to push a population tired and weary of lockdowns into getting the shot. Leon Trotsky, writing in 1938 for his essay Their Morals and Ours, stated, “The fundamental feature of these approchements [moral invocations from the ruling class] and similitudes lies in their completely ignoring the material foundation of the various currents, that is, their class nature and by that token their objective historical role.”

The reality is that the ruling class has convinced itself that COVID-19 and the lockdowns are the source of their economic woes. The vaccines offer a way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves over the last 18 months, with the added effect of funnelling billions in taxpayer dollars into the coffers of pharmaceutical companies. The arguments made by the left mandate supporters boil down to a forceful insistence that the working class embrace this “solution” offered by capital, and declare victory. 

One effective way of curtailing the spread of COVID-19 while a proven and safe vaccine was in the process of being developed would have been to provide sufficient paid sick leave so that symptomatic carriers could self-isolate. Yet simple measures such as this, or even reversing the trend in reducing hospital provisions, were never considered by politicians across the world. This is because, from the very beginning, the same lawmakers now enacting vaccine coercion and mandates never allowed the supposedly society-shattering pandemic to actually change any of their legislative priorities. 

Take the recently disgraced Andrew Cuomo as one egregious example. Since coming into office in 2011, the New York governor had sought to address a state budget deficit through the time-honored, truly bipartisan tradition of US politics—making cuts to public spending. During the height of the pandemic last year, he pushed through a state budget that saw health funding slashed by $2.5 billion per year. 

Since vaccines could be produced for great profit, they were the only solution that was ever offered, placing the burden onto the individual to take any biological risks associated with an experimental medication, while keeping the ruling class from having to make any concessions to labor whatsoever. The manufacturers were further granted full indemnity so that the financial risk fell squarely on the shoulders of the working people.

Repeating Mistakes of the Past

There is one recent historical precedent whereupon the “collective good” sought by the capitalists resulted in net harm to the working class. The 2009 swine flu pandemic, caused by the H1N1 influenza-type virus, was deemed at the time to be far more deadly than the seasonal flu, with an initially assumed case fatality rate of as much as 5%. A vaccine called Pandemrix was quickly manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, skipping many of standard safety tests due to the “public health emergency” and was duly administered to 30 million Europeans. 

As it turns out, the vaccine caused brain damage at the rate of around 1/10,000 and subsequently ruined the lives of thousands—needlessly, because the risk of swine flu was below the rate of 1/10,000 for many age groups, and ended up having a case fatality rate of no larger than 0.3% for the oldest—far below initial 5% estimates. Worse still, the harm caused to these individuals was not offset by any broad societal benefit–the only “good” that resulted was billions made in sales that the pharmaceutical companies who developed the vaccine. They were also, just as is the case with the COVID-19 vaccines, granted indemnity against liability from all wrongdoing in multiple countries, putting taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars worth of damages. 

Formulating a position on vaccination, or any other widespread policy intervention is hardly a simple process. The analysis is complex; encompassing not only scientific information, but also taking into account the balance of class forces and historical precedent. The capitalist class clearly believes that COVID-19 is responsible for our persistent economic crisis, which explains the arsenal of coercive methods and propaganda states are deploying to encourage vaccination. Many claim that these methods are worthwhile, but the benefit of taking a rushed, experimental vaccine en masse against a disease that poses no exceptional risk to the vast majority of people is anything but certain, to say the least. 

The working class must formulate its own position independently and for itself. So far, large protests have arisen against vaccine mandates, and a sizable portion of workers in many workplaces in the healthcare industry have thus far resisted it, even at the threat of being fired. While these acts of resistance may be spontaneous and disjointed, they are still an expression of the will of working people to affirm their bodily autonomy, subjectivity, and rationality against their class oppressors.