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Demonstrators rally against a vaccine mandate for passports.

Demonstrators rally against COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine passport mandates in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. President Biden’s announcement of a mandate for employees in businesses of 100 or more workers may not be well-received by some Americans.

Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

Opinion: Vaccines are good, but forcing them on people is not

President Biden’s mandate to require all employees in large businesses to get shots is likely to backfire

SHARE Opinion: Vaccines are good, but forcing them on people is not
SHARE Opinion: Vaccines are good, but forcing them on people is not

Americans have a fiercely independent streak. If someone is in need, they are likely to stand in line to help. American philanthropy leads the world. Urge them to do something by explaining why it’s good for them, and they might do it. But require them to do something and they almost certainly will rebel.

And so, President Joe Biden’s announcement last week that he is ordering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring all companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations, will likely backfire.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t get the nation any closer to the end of the pandemic.

Biden clearly was frustrated as he made the announcement. We share that emotion. Effective vaccines against the virus are readily available and free of charge, and yet many Americans who are medically able to take them refuse to do so, thus prolonging the pandemic. Meanwhile, the economy once again is beginning to slow, and hospitals are at capacity. 

In Utah, Intermountain Healthcare announced Friday that 13 of its hospitals are postponing non-urgent surgeries because of the crisis.

Most of the COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. Even though 177 million Americans are now vaccinated, the number of new cases each day is about 140,000 nationwide, The Associated Press reported. For the first time since January, Utah’s number of new cases exceeded 2,000 on both Thursday and Friday. 

The AP also reported that about 25% of new cases are children who, in many cases, cannot be vaccinated. They tend to spread the virus among the adults in their lives, and sometimes the children become seriously ill, too.

Clearly, the nation is in a crisis, and many people are refusing to acknowledge it while also refusing the best way to fix it. A higher vaccination rate would help stem the spread, reduce the number of seriously ill people and allow the economy to return to normal.

But forcing people to be vaccinated is not the answer. In practical terms, it will invite several legal challenges. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has said he is preparing to “fight any unconstitutional limitation of individual liberties and privacy.” Other states, private companies and perhaps even labor unions may file challenges of their own.

And in emotional terms, it likely will cause people to dig in their heels further.

To his credit, the president did allow for exceptions, including for religious or medical reasons. But by attempting to impose a mandate, he has further politicized a public health issue. Getting a vaccine should not be a question of political partisanship.

In addition, the order has an arbitrary feel to it. A company with 100 employees would have to enforce a vaccination mandate on its employees, while a similar one down the street with 99 workers would not. And yet, a vaccine would be just as important for the 99 as it is for the 100.

It’s difficult to predict how courts would rule on this mandate. In the past, judges have ruled in favor of state’s requiring vaccines, but the federal government has never attempted such a thing.

Regardless, Americans can render any court challenge moot by simply getting a shot — one that was created under the direction of one presidential administration and is being promoted by another. 

They might do so if presented with evidence and sound reasoning. They probably will put up a fight if Washington tries to force them.