The case for mandates was shaky from the get-go. Forcing one and all to douse themselves with rushed-out vaccines with universally acknowledged higher-than-usual side effect rates was always a questionable choice. The failure to account for natural immunity — providing significantly better protection than vaccines against earlier Covid variants and taken into account in comparable mandates throughout the E.U., in the U.K. and in Israel — was a glaring instance of authoritarian partisan politicians running out ahead of the science in their eagerness to find comfort in demonizing the unvaccinated for a virus that has spread easily in both low-vaccine nations and highly vaccinated nations such as Israel and Germany. But we have reached the point now where we have no more reason to keep grinding that axe: we have clearly arrived at a juncture when even the tenuous case for vaccine mandates, such as it was, has completely and utterly collapsed.
This is — or should be — simple enough. Whatever protection they may still offer against the risk of serious illness and death, existing vaccines provide hardly any protection against catching the new Omicron variant and infecting others. As a new large study co-authored by 23 scientists at Columbia University and the University of Hong Kong spells out, the Omicron variant is “markedly resistant” to the widely used vaccines and boosters. Moreover, boosters appear to lose whatever additional efficacy they may have against Omicron within a mere 10 weeks. Unless governments were to engage in the utter madness of mandating not only boosters but boosters after boosters after boosters every few months, vaccines mandates would be accomplishing little more than sorting the population into an arbitrarily favored in-group and disfavored out-group. Each additional booster, moreover, would be likely to multiply the risk of side effects (note, in this connection, that contrary to what you may have heard from self-appointed “fact-checkers,” vaccine side effects are routinely under-reported rather than exaggerated), especially if different vaccine types are mixed, as a Lancet study reported.
Two additional facts make this still more of an open-and-shut case. First, there is the fact that Omicron is significantly less severe than the prior Covid strains it is rapidly displacing, such that forcing people to vaccinate themselves against it is a more dubious proposition. And second is the fact that Omicron is rapidly tearing its way through the population. For example, one in 60 residents of Manhattan — closing in on 2% — got sick with Omicron within just the one week ending on December 24th, with the actual number of undocumented cases very likely to be very significantly higher, of course. It is clear that by the time the Omicron wave is done — a conclusion that should come in a matter of weeks, not months, if South Africa’s experience is any guide — a very substantial proportion of the population will have had it. Those people do not need to be vaccinated against something they have already had, while the risk of side effects from vaccines doubles for those who were previously infected with Covid.
Notably, the argument that vaccines and/or boosters, while not preventing us from catching Covid and getting others sick, may still protect the vaccinated themselves against the risk of severe illness and death is a red herring when it comes to mandates. Mandates are justified by their reputed social benefit, i.e., protecting others from infection, not by any benefit to the vaccinated individual. We routinely allow people to do all sorts of stupid things that massively increase their own risk of severe illness and mortality from all causes, Covid included — eating their way into diabetes, heart disease and every other malady, to name the most obvious example — and we do not tolerate even modest attempts to combat these obvious pathologies, such as former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s judicially derailed attempt to ban super-sized soft drinks. Our societal elites go so far as to rail against what they absurdly call “fat-shaming,” while popular magazines, even fitness magazines, plaster images of grotesquely obese women on their covers while telling us — talk about “fake news” — that “it’s healthy” to be obese. Needless to say, the temporary blip of Covid pales in comparison to the ongoing toll of preventable disease and death wrought by the ongoing and ever-increasing obesity epidemic. If we, in the name of preserving the domain of individual freedom to make dumb, self-destructive decisions, cannot impose mandates of even the most basic sort to combat obesity, we cannot justify Covid vaccine mandates if the benefit of such vaccines is merely to protect individuals from becoming more severely ill than they otherwise would get.
Having been permitted to give vent to their authoritarian proclivities and impose mandates on the public, many politicians are now locked in the punch and will undoubtedly keep at it so long a public cowed by the fear-mongering media is willing to tolerate such indignities, while private institutions, such as The Metropolitan Opera and a few upscale restaurants, have taken the still-more-loony step of imposing booster mandates. We can only hope that such private institutions incur the wrath of their own patrons and lose revenue as a result of their overreach (imagine, again, a restaurant that weighs diners at the door and turns the obese away), but when it comes to our governments, it is time for us to make our voices heard. We’ve had enough. The case for mandates has fallen apart, and mandates, like the economy-destroying lockdowns before them, must be brought to an end. Let Omicron, with its dramatically lessened risks of severe illness and death, rage among us. Let us decide if and how to protect ourselves. Let adults make their own decisions about how to conduct their lives, and let those of us who insist on acting like children pay for their own mistakes, even as this next wave hopefully escorts the global pandemic out with a final whimper.