On Presidential Power & Public Health

Yesterday afternoon, President Biden announced his administration’s new, more forceful approach to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 pandemic. In the speech, the President clearly illustrated his—and by extension, many of the United States’ citizens’—frustration with conspiracy theories, dis- and misinformation, and political gamesmanship standing in the way of vaccine adoption and the seemingly, but not entirely, inevitable defeat of the virus.

This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having unprecedented and successful vaccination program — despite the fact that for almost five months, free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations — we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.

Throughout his young presidency, Joe Biden has steadfastly and resiliently campaigned for mass-vaccination and mask wearing, which we know to both be effective at reducing the risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and, thus, developing COVID-19. This campaign has been largely successful, with nearly 75% of Americans having received at least one (1) inoculation.

The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Nearly three-quarters of the eligible have gotten at least one shot. But one-quarter has not gotten any. That’s nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated. In a country as large as ours, that’s 25 percent minority. That 25 percent can cause a lot of damage, and they are. The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals or overrun the emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer.

One of the naysayers’ favourite tropes is that if the vaccine is so “safe and effective,” then how are the “unvaccinated a ‘threat’ to the vaccinated?” And the answer is simple: the unvaccinated provide an evolutionary pathway to the virus to escape the protection of the vaccine(s). Here’s an visual metaphor for you… Think of the human population like an airport and the virus like a Boeing 777. The virus (the Boeing 777) wins the game if it manages to achieve lift-off velocity and gain altitude. By being vaccinated, the airport is effectively removing sections of tarmac from the runway. Now, a Boeing 777 needs roughly 3,200m (10,500 ft) to reach its lift-off velocity of 270 to 345 km/h (165 to 215 mph). Any less than that, and the  aircraft won’t have the safety margins it needs to takeoff—which all relies on net weight of the aircraft and its payload, but let’s not get bogged down by that. So, at this point, we (the airport) haven’t removed enough tarmac from the runway to ground the Boeing 777. It’s still got enough runway to lift off.

More simply put: The unvaccinated are a breeding ground for the virus to develop better methods of evasion of our bodies’ immune systems.

So when you see Armchair Experts on Twitter posing this as a mutually exclusive position…

…kindly remind them that they don’t know the first thing about viral evolution or immune-response biology and ask them to lie down before they hurt themselves.

Yes, you are “dumb.” Their word, not mine!

[…] the world’s leading scientists confirm that if you’re fully vaccinated, your risk of severe illness from Covid-19 is very low. In fact, based on available data from the summer, only one out of every 160,000 fully vaccinated Americans was hospitalized for Covid per day. These are the facts.

Let’s face facts, dear reader, we know that this rash of civil misconduct is the product of propaganda programming by the right and its very efficient and effective media arms at Fox News, OANN, and Breitbart, etc. But when you’re swimming in those lies, it’s exceptionally difficult to rationalise your way out of it because you’re drowning in bullshit. It’s intellectual quicksand.

After the President’s speech yesterday, which you can read the full transcript of here, many have popped up saying things like “this is illegal” or “this is unconstitutional” or “he can’t do that!” And, as Rachel Maddow so clearly illustrated during her opening monologue last night 1) no it isn’t, 2) no it isn’t, and 3) yes, he can.

Citing the example of President Lyndon Johnson desegregating hospitals in the American South through the one-two punch of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Social Security Act Amendments of 1965—using the former as the gateway to access to the latter—Rachel illustrated that the Federal Government of the United States, and indeed the President of the United States, has sweeping powers to compel compliance with policy and law.

Further, Rachel cited the powers and purpose of the new agency that President Nixon created by signing the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (though she erroneously stated he signed the bill in 1975), which gave the government the authority and the ability to set and enforce health and safety standards for most of the nation’s workers. By employing OSHA to set policy and enforce that policy, President Biden is fully within his powers and rights as president.

To borrow the argument Rachel used on her show last night, if you have a problem with the vaccine requirements from OSHA/DOL, do you also have a problem with the seatbelt laws? Or the meat inspectors? Or the safety standards in any of a half-dozen other aspects of your life which OSHA oversees?

Maddow Blog has a wonderful examination of the response online here. And what it, ultimately, boils down to is that the policy itself is irrelevant, the optics, however, are what is valuable to them. So beholden to the Trumpist faction of the party, GQP politicians are vehemently obstructionist to anything that the President makes any effort to do.

The Republican National Committee, for example, announced plans to file a lawsuit to derail Biden’s policy, which the RNC called “unconstitutional.” At the same time, Republican governors in Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming, among others, denounced the president’s proposals and vowed to fight back against them.

What I find so exceptionally distressing, so painfully frustrating, and so righteously aggravating is that this is all, all of it, the fault of Republican defunding of our public education system. If our population were, as it used to be, taught how to think critically with scientific literacy and understood basic civics in the United States, let alone the more complex functions of our government, on a mass scale, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Yes, sure, SARS-CoV-2 would still be here, but we wouldn’t have 80 million Americans fighting tooth and nail against rational public safety, marching in the streets because they “can’t breathe” with a surgical mask on, and threatening doctors and teachers who want to protect their children.

It’s all a circle, folks. This is why elections matter. All elections: local, state, and federal. Don’t stay home. Vote.