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Sean D. Reyes
Utah Office of the Attorney General
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OpEd: Biden’s Vaccine Mandate: Two Large Steps Back in the War on COVID

Note: This op-ed was published in the Deseret News on November 6, 2021

The rapid development and distribution of a vaccine was an extraordinary feat in the war against COVID-19. My wife and I chose to be vaccinated. But some of our own family members have not. 

Certain friends have health vulnerabilities making vaccination urgent for them, while others’ medical conditions like allergic reactions render the same shots potentially fatal. Many friends chose vaccination even after having COVID while others declined, having recovered with a natural immunity that may be as effective or even more potent than a vaccine. 

And while the majority of medical studies and experts assure us vaccines are safe, it was only a couple decades ago that prevailing medical science told us opioids were not addictive and were necessary for proper pain management. That medical misinformation led to more dead Americans than almost any other cause until COVID-19. 

Regardless of where you stand on vaccines, one thing is certain: the decision to get vaccinated is still a very personal one. While vaccines have allowed us to take one giant step forward against the pandemic, President Biden’s federal contractor mandate and private-sector mandate drive us two monumental steps back.

First, the progress we have made in encouraging those who are hesitant to get vaccinated was quickly lost. The hesitant have now become decided—decidedly against getting vaccinated.

President Biden’s mandates command that all employers with over 100 employees require vaccinations or produce a negative test result on a weekly basis, and employees of covered federal contractors must be vaccinated. American workers received the message loud and clear: get vaccinated or lose your job.  

Utah recently filed lawsuits with other states challenging the federal contractor mandate and the private sector mandate. Through a handful of lawsuits, over 20 states agree that this executive overreach is both illegal and reckless.

After more than a year of confusion and fear over COVID-19, people are skeptical of public health pronouncements. Forcing people to choose between their jobs and a vaccine merely engenders mistrust of the government and the vaccine campaign. 

But Biden is not just bullying workers, he is bullying businesses as well. Businesses who must ensure testing compliance or face stiff fines are pressured into simply mandating vaccines for all workers. Struggling with the greatest supply chain crisis since WWII, employers should be basing decisions on what’s best for their businesses and workforce, but instead fall victim to Biden’s edict.  And worse, the plan pits Americans against each other and places employers in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship.

Second, because the administration is using unlawful means to achieve its vaccination goals, it only worsens mistrust for any future government efforts against COVID. Every American—the vaccinated and unvaccinated—should be angry about Biden’s vaccination dictate because he is using unconstitutional means to realize his mandates. President Biden explained that he issued the mandates because his “patience was wearing thin” with the unvaccinated. So, instead of spurring Congress to act, he decided to plow right through the Constitution on his own. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a rule requiring workers’ vaccination or testing for employers with 100 or more employees. But OSHA was created to address workplace conditions, not global pandemics.  

Recently, the Supreme Court struck down the CDC’s attempt to stop evictions. The Court found it hard to believe that Congress authorized the CDC to issue a nationwide moratorium on evictions. The Supreme Court explained that Congress must speak clearly “when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance.”  This vaccination mandate is estimated to affect 80 million Americans. Nothing in OSHA’s statutes authorizes such broad power.

Biden’s unlawful mandates and fear antics may have pressured some to get vaccinated. Perhaps that was the plan all along—to scare Americans into getting vaccinated until the mandates are overturned by the courts. But if we care about the Constitution, we must care about the means not just the ends. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts explained, “a strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way.”

For these reasons, I am committed to challenging these illegal orders all the way to the Supreme Court. Not because vaccines are wrong—but because mandating them in these ways very much is.

Sean D. Reyes Utah Attorney General