The government’s first responsibility is to protect human lives. So President Joe Biden on Thursday was right and right on time to lay down a simple “no jab, no job” COVID-19 vaccine ultimatum for the nation’s largest employer, Uncle Sam, as well as for federal contractors.
His most sweeping mandate — a Labor Department rule requiring all private businesses with more than 100 employees to make their workers get their shots, or take weekly coronavirus tests, with penalties of up to $14,000 per violation — will be a challenge to defend against inevitable lawsuits. (Can a work-from-home employee be compelled to get vaccinated? Will the legal logic hold even though vaccination does not stop spread?) But give the president credit for trying to save lives, and for taking the mandate of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration both seriously and literally.
Others should follow his lead, as the Los Angeles schools did by making all eligible students get vaccinated. If students must get their shots for largely conquered diseases like polio and diphtheria, as they do across America, the case is 10 times stronger to guard against a raging plague that’s clogging hospitals.
More than 650,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. If current daily death counts fueled by the contagious delta variant (in excess of 1,500) remain constant, that horrifying total will reach 1 million in just 233 more days.
They will not remain constant. To some extent, the virus ebbs and flows in ways beyond our control. To a larger extent, the United States controls its destiny, with masking one way to slow spread and an ample supply of free, highly effective vaccines that all but guarantee those who get infected will not land in the ICU or the graveyard. Yet just 54 percent of Americans have gotten their shots, an unacceptably low rate.
The weapons to win the war are in our hands. The only way out of another year of agony and Zoom funerals and widespread economic disruption is the inoculation of millions. Roll up your sleeve, America.