Don’t fight the COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A healthy workforce means a healthy company. That’s one of the underlying messages of last week’s executive order from President Biden pushing companies to get their employees vaccinated.

When President Joe Biden issued an executive order for a vaccine mandate for all federal workers and contractors—and a requirement that all businesses with 100 or more workers either mandate vaccines or regular testing for employees—I was all in favor of it. I’ve seen how quickly unvaccinated people can spread COVID-19.

Haywood County, N.C., the county next to my Buncombe County, just ran out of ICU beds. We’ve gone from six people dying in July to 51 dead in August. In fact, the western N.C. Mission Health Hospital Center, the region’s largest hospital system, has had to turn patients away. One COVID-19 patient died in the parking lot.

What’s this have to do with business? It’s simple, really: You can’t be a successful company if your workers (or customers) are getting sick or dying. And you’re going to have a hard time finding (or keeping) workers if they feel they’re in danger of getting COVID-19 on the job.

Not everyone is on board, of course. Even before President Biden made his announcement, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted, “Vaccine mandates are un-American. Former Vice President Mike Pence slammed President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates in a Fox News interview saying Biden’s announcement was “unlike anything I have ever heard from an American president.”

True, when George Washington ordered the Continental Army to be vaccinated against smallpox he wasn’t president yet. Washington did this, he wrote, because “We should have more to dread from it [smallpox], than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

Vaccines do help. According to the CDC’s latest numbers, the unvaccinated are over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die than those who are fully vaccinated. So as a business owner, what should you do?

I’ve been saying all along that you should insist on all your employees getting vaccinated. Not only is it legal in most cases, but it also just makes sense. Do you want your workers to get sick? Do you want them to spread the disease to customers? Do you want to never have your staffers physically get together again? I expect your answers, no matter your politics, would be no, no, and no.

You see, we’ve already been down this road before. In 1902, because of a smallpox outbreak, the Cambridge, Mass. health board ordered town residents to get vaccinated. One Henning Jacobson refused because he claimed it violated his constitutional rights.

Sound familiar?

Three years later, in 1905, the Supreme Court, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, ruled he was wrong. As the Court wrote: “The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good.”

I suspect President Biden and his advisors read the decision before issuing that executive order. His comment—“A distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner”—could have come straight from that 1905 decision.

In other words, you can fight the mandate, but you’re not going to win in the courts.

You’re also not going to keep your employees. Personally, even though I work from home and have no intention of ever returning to an office, I would never work for anyone who’s anti-vaccine. It shows a contempt for reason, science, my health, and the corporate bottom line. I suspect you’ll find that many of your people agree.

In other words, “Just do it.” Just insist your crew gets the vaccine. It will be better for everyone that way.

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