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Opinion: Here’s how vaccines will become a political issue in 2022

President Biden may suffer the same fate as Harry Truman, whose plan to nationalize the steel industry was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Several syringes containing COVID-19 vaccines await willing patients.
Syringes containing doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine await patients at a vaccination site run by the Utah County Health Department in Spanish Fork on Thursday, March 25, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The heat of summer is mostly over. But COVID-19, masks and vaccinations are producing plenty of sizzle both in Washington, D.C., and in Utah. We explore the ramifications.

President Joe Biden has ordered OSHA to develop an emergency rule mandating full vaccinations or weekly negative tests of employees in businesses with 100 or more workers. Some local governments and private organizations are also requiring vaccinations. Also, the Utah Legislature may consider legislation making employers liable for adverse reactions if they require employee vaccinations. Will this become an election issue in 2022?

Pignanelli: “There’s a whole legal weirdness to this issue. … People are for vaccine mandates even if a company does it themselves, but many are against the Biden administration and OSHA doing it.” Sarah Isgur, ABC News

Our nation’s capital is consistent — faces change, but many issues do not. Harry S. Truman (a personal hero of mine) was facing a major crisis in 1952. The Armed Forces were engaged in the Korean conflict and the national economy was surging. Both activities needed steel, but a workers’ strike was imminent. Truman issued an executive order nationalizing the steel industry to resolve the dilemma. In Youngstown v. Sawyer, the Supreme Court ruled against the administration, stating the president lacked the authority to seize such private property without congressional authorization.

Biden is likely to suffer the same fate as Truman with the current Supreme Court. The rejection of his order on rental evictions suggests such an outcome. The administration is aware of the risk but maintains the realistic potential during the pendency of the proceedings, many employers will push the vaccination requirement.

So far, the business community is delivering a mixed response — signaling some view this as an opportunity to vaccinate their employees. Utah employers may take advantage of the situation, with the hope that the proposed liability legislation is not implemented.

Biden’s order will result in further hardening by the anti-vaxxers. Even those who submit will have hard feelings. Greater polarization on COVID-19 issues is the likely result (just what we needed!). These emotions will drive deliberations during the upcoming legislative session and onto the 2022 elections.

Yep, some things never change.

Webb: My wife and I are vaccinated, and I’m a big proponent of vaccinations. I believe vaccinations save lives and we need most of the population to be vaccinated to get the pandemic under control.

But I don’t think the federal government should mandate vaccinations, or force private organizations to require vaccinations of employees or customers, especially across the entire country. The country is too diverse for such a one-size-fits all decree.

Many governors, attorneys general, legislatures and business leaders are strongly rebelling against Biden’s mandate. A big question is how the coercion will be carried out and enforced. Labor Department attorneys could be fining or prosecuting thousands of businesses across the country.

I personally know workers who, unfortunately, will quit their jobs before getting a vaccination. I know some businesses already dealing with worker shortages who fear they will have to shut their doors because some employees will leave if forced to be vaccinated.

I respect the rights of private businesses to impose vaccine mandates on employees or customers if they’re willing to accept the backlash.

And I’m OK if local officials, who are close to their constituents and know what they want, impose mask requirements in schools. Salt Lake City School District is different than Alpine School District. And masks are obviously less personally intrusive than vaccinations.

Vaccine mandates will certainly be an election issue next year. It’s another example of massive federal overreach.

Recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it will not support members who seek formal religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates from local church leaders. How does this influence political deliberations?

Pignanelli: If Utah employers enforce the Biden mandates, requests for religious exemptions are likely to cause controversy. There may be demands for legislative actions that help those seeking such exceptions. However, the church’s statement is very clear in support of vaccinations. This controversy could be an intense issue in the next 12 months.

Webb: The church is being completely consistent in refusing to sign religious exemption applications sought by members to avoid vaccinations. Vaccinations don’t violate church doctrine or practices. On the contrary, top church leaders have strongly encouraged vaccinations. So it would make no sense at all for a church leader to sign an application from a member stating that a religious exemption should be granted to the member.

While vaccinations are not a doctrinal matter and have no bearing on worthiness in the church, members who oppose and refuse vaccinations are clearly at odds with the counsel of their leaders.

Will vaccination become a litmus test for both parties far into the future?

Pignanelli: Because vaccination and masks are emotionally polarizing, strident activists on either side of the political spectrum will demand fealty by candidates in caucuses, primaries, etc.

Webb: It’s terribly unfortunate that what should be a medical/doctor/patient issue has become a highly-charged, ultra-divisive political issue. We defeated polio and smallpox with near-universal, voluntary vaccinations. We don’t have big political fights over them. It is a sad commentary on the state of politics and our society that COVID-19 vaccinations have come to symbolize our political dysfunction and acrimony. Both sides are to blame.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.