- President Biden has said federal workers will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly.
- Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, argues that is a display of “authoritarianism.”
- But the US Senator admits that he does not believe other vaccines are a matter of individual choice.
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When he was running for president in 2015, Sen. Ted Cruz pledged to fire around 150,000 federal workers, outright eliminating the Department of Education and IRS. But now he is advocating for unelected bureaucrats in Washington, at least when it comes to their right to resist a life-saving vaccine in a pandemic.
“President Biden’s new vaccine mandate for federal employees is a brazen example of how the Left is politicizing science in the service of their authoritarian instincts,” Cruz said in a press release on Thursday.
The Texas Republican is himself vaccinated and has recommended others follow suit. Still, he said, “The American people must maintain their individual liberties and the right to make their own medical decisions.”
Biden’s directive provides a loophole; if a federal worker refuses to get vaccinated, they can get tested weekly, keep wearing masks, and socially distance.
If COVID-19 were not an infectious disease – more contagious than Ebola, far more deadly than the flu, and with potentially long-term health effects – the senator might have a point. Freedom, for better or worse, entails the liberty to make a bad decision.
But we are dealing with a virus, not a personal vice. The available vaccines are incredibly effective, making one 25 times less likely to end up in the hospital or die, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But they are not perfect – and the likelihood of a “breakthrough” case is substantially higher when one is regularly exposed to an unvaccinated population that is a breeding ground for new variants.
You may drink yourself to death in a free society, at least in the privacy of your own home, but you are not permitted to cruise down the interstate. Federal and state laws are in place that prohibit drinking and driving.
Requiring the vaccine of the country’s 2.1 million federal workers appears to be a last resort, coming amid a surge brought about by lagging vaccination rates and the more contagious Delta variant. Though corporate America may follow the government’s lead, most Americans are simply being encouraged to get a shot, the iron fist of the state holding a $US100 ($AU136) voucher for those who choose to get vaccinated.
In almost any other context, the senator from Texas would likely defend the right of an employer to set the terms of employment – indeed, he has argued there’s a right to deny it on the basis of sexual orientation. Every day, people accept restrictions on their liberties, from how they dress to what they say, in exchange for money. This is a system that enjoys overwhelming support from Republicans.
Vaccine mandates are also commonplace in Texas. There, the government mandates that every child who attends a public school receive seven vaccines covering everything from polio to Hepatitis to Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. Parents can obtain exemptions, under certain circumstances, but “in times of emergency or epidemic” Texas relies on blunt force. If you want your child to attend school, they must be vaccinated or they will be barred from entering the building – a recognition that, when it comes to a contagious disease, an individual choice can impinge on the liberty of others.
“Of course not,” a Cruz spokesperson, Dave Vasquez, said when asked if the senator objects to requirements for other vaccines. “Sen. Cruz has been clear that he opposes COVID vaccine mandates.”
And that is the crux: amid a pandemic, Cruz and others have decided now is the time to make public health another battle in the culture war, and to inveigh against liberal “authoritarianism” with respect to one particular life-saving inoculation. That looks more like politics than principle.