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Joe Biden knows we can’t back down from vaccine mandates

Spurious requests for religious exemptions should be denied.

Protesters opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates hold a rally on Sept. 18 n front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Protesters opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates hold a rally on Sept. 18 n front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

President Joe Biden has canceled a planned visit to Chicago on Wednesday, but his original reason for coming — to persuade businesses to enforce vaccine mandates — remains right on the mark.

He’s stuck in Washington for now, working to end a looming crisis over his proposed infrastructure bill and economic package, but we hope to see him in Chicago soon, pushing those tough-love vaccine rules. Because the United States must employ every strategy possible to get COVID-19 under control.

Almost 30% of Americans over 11 years old are unvaccinated. Half say they might get the jab; the other half just won’t. Polling data show that the percentage who refuse to get a shot has not changed significantly since December. Many people also refuse to wear masks.

Fifty-five percent of Americans of every age are fully vaccinated, but that is not enough for our nation to reach herd immunity. Two thousand people are dying of COVID every day, almost all of them unvaccinated.

Paradoxically, the more successful the vaccines have proved to be, the faster the anti-vaccine movement has grown. But if we fail to achieve herd immunity, the virus will circulate in clusters of unvaccinated people and could very well mutate into something even more dangerous.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that the daily average of vaccinations in our state is about 22,000 a day, which, let’s face it, is much too small a number. Meanwhile, lawyers are going around offering to sue employers under the Health Care Right of Conscience Act on behalf of people who don’t want to be inoculated. The vaccines have been successful for the billions of people around the globe who have received at least one dose. Yet many of the unvaccinated prefer instead to rely on treatments that have no record of success.

A person who sued to get treated with ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites, almost died in a Libertyville hospital. Donald Trump famously, and dangerously, suggested drinking bleach and hyped hydroxychloroquine. And lately, self-appointed medical experts on the internet have begun recommending that people take hydrogen peroxide with a nebulizer, which can be dangerous, even fatal.

Biden is exactly right to push vaccine mandates as an important line of attack against the virus. Gov. J.B. Pritzker tried incentives such as free skeet shooting, a million-dollar lottery and college scholarships, but none of that moved the needle. Government just has to do more.

What we cannot afford to do is allow foolish loopholes, such as spurious religious exemptions, to undercut mandated vaccines. Or the virus never will be controlled.

California eliminated all non-medical exemptions to vaccines several years ago, and every state would be wise to follow that example. If people want to claim a religious exemption, it should be entirely their responsibility to prove the exemption is genuine and valid.

Very few religious exemptions should be granted, or the virus will triumph.

Allowing the virus to rage on is not an option. Because everybody, included the responsibly vaccinated, are paying the price.

Vaccinated people with compromised immune systems are dying. People with other serious health problems are being denied entry to hospitals crowded with unvaccinated COVID patients. When coronavirus cases pop up in schools, unvaccinated teachers and staff members must quarantine along with students under the age of 12. Educational progress is disrupted once again.

Our nation has a long history of improving public health by requiring vaccines. The U.S. Supreme Court has said government has the right to do so. In a 1905 majority opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that a smallpox vaccination mandate had a “real [and] substantial relation to the protection of the public health and safety.” The opinion also said there is no “absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint.”

Yet, on Saturday in New York, a rowdy crowd protesting masks stormed into the Staten Island Mall. On Monday morning in Missouri, dozens of people protested new COVID-19 rules at Procter & Gamble. Earlier this year in Connecticut, thousands of parents protested when state lawmakers there repealed the state’s religious exemption for mandatory school vaccinations.

It is a miracle we have three effective vaccines so soon after COVID-19 was detected. Researchers have been working for 40 years to develop an AIDS vaccine.

Government on the federal, state and local level should use every tactic to finally get vaccination rates in this country to an acceptable, life-preserving level.

And that means never backing down to the misinformed, the sadly misled and the cynical obstructionists.

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