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Do we really want apartheid by injection?

By chance, I stumbled into watching the live feed of President Biden’s Covid-19 speech a few weeks ago. It “creeped me out.”

The draconian measures the president said he was going to enact (through OSHSA via “executive order” — which pretty much represents executive whim) were distressing to me. Initially, I found them ironic, as the president seemed to be channeling that arch-conservative tough guy, “Dirty Harry.” The imperial/dictatorial tone bothered me more than the president’s directing his minions in the executive branch (like OSHA) to reach beyond legitimate presidential power.

Directing executive branch priorities within the law is the limit of presidential power. Acting outside the law is, by definition, illegal and hence impermissible. A simple reading our constitution makes it pretty clear that the central government cannot simply dictate what individuals or business will do, pandemic or not.

While administrative whims expressed through executive order can complicate our lives, those things are usually more annoying, than “transformative” because they’re conceptually correctable via a vigilant congress or the courts. If national policy is to be established, it must come through Congress via federal law and pass “constitutional muster.” Still, the president’s overreach of executive powers was not what creeped me out.

The creepy thing about the president’s speech was his summary of social separation of the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. Proposing radically different social treatment of the two groups by denying privileges to folks who have chosen not to participate in the president’s preferred approach to Covid-19 management amounts to injection apartheid.

I know apartheid is a nasty, loaded word we narrowly think of as race-based separation and denial of rights and social access in South Africa. Literally translated from Afrikaans, apartheid means “separate neighborhoods.” Apartheid is pernicious practice because it sanctions separation of populations into different segments (“neighborhoods”) by arbitrary means. That’s the heart of what the president said he would direct OSHA to do regarding Covid vaccinations. In principle, I’ll have to be shown why separating us into “neighborhoods” on the basis of willingness to obtain a presumed population benefit (vaccine protection) is any different than establishing privilege/discrimination on the basis of race, gender or any other criterion.

Of course, I realize being Covid-vaccinated is a choice, and one cannot choose one’s biological race (although we’re told gender is up for grabs these days). I also realize established participation in social activities like public school (remember progressives argued education was a “right” before Covid-19) are conditional on having received what have recently been termed “sterilizing” vaccines. These are vaccines, like the measles vaccine, that produce long-lasting immune protection, period.

That said, I think equating classic sterilizing vaccines (that offer population-level protection) with “leaky” vaccines (like Covid-19 mRNA injections that offer only shorter-term individual protection) is flawed. Both involve needles and arms, but Covid mRNA vaccines obviously don’t do what we expect of proven sterilizing vaccines. Sterilizing vaccines produce a long-lasting population benefit. Leaky vaccines produce a transient individual benefit (for which, as a “breakthrough case,” I’m grateful). Does it really make sense to draw a big circle around partially protected individuals and declare them a classically protected population?

The essence of American liberty is individual choice, and at founding our central government was pretty much excluded from prescribing individual choices, notably restricting freedom of speech, religion, the press, petition and assembly. Our Constitution is generally proscriptive when it comes to societal coercion via administrative edict.

What I inferred from the president was his clear intention to deny things like freedom of assembly/association, ability to hold a job, do business, or travel in an attempt to coerce vaccination compliance with an apparently population-ineffective, but transiently individual-protective leaky vaccine. Where might this coercion via central-government edict stop?

If presidential minions ever tumble to the medical hazards of obesity, or the social costs of alcohol or marijuana in society, will our overweight citizens be forced to buy Nutri-System, recriminalize pot at the state level or return to prohibition via executive order? When the administration openly owns overpopulation as the root cause of global climate change, will abortion cease to be a choice? Some on the left are already proclaiming, “vaccinated lives matter.” There’s so much uncertainty still attending Covid-19 that setting social policy based on ignorance or questionable assumption seems dictatorial to me. President “Dirty Harry” creeped me out, just as mitigating climate change via executive order in Alaska has.

Maybe, being in the president’s demographic, I’m just too much like Harry Callihan.

Wayne E. Heimer is not a medical doctor or infectious disease expert. He’s just a biologist with an atypically broad background and a lifetime of experience.

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