The Health Department Undermines Itself

The city's vaccine mandate is another instance of government overreach

Image | Geralt

It’s almost been two years of the pandemic, yet elected (and non-elected) officials still have no concept of how to treat the public with dignity. The latest push has been two-fold: a vaccine mandate to enter a restaurant and then the health commissioner encouraging people to avoid family gatherings for the holidays.

Sometimes it’s like health departments nationwide want everyone laughing at them.

“Two-thirds of cases interviewed say they got COVID from their household; less than one-quarter from social and other settings,” the health department tweeted. “Holiday gatherings are dangerous.”

Holiday gatherings are dangerous in the same way that driving a car is dangerous. You take some precautions, but you accept the small risk of death as a part of life. It’s not exactly a shock that most people catch COVID from the people they live with. They spend a bit more time with their families than with strangers at the grocery store.

When the city announced the vaccine mandate on December 13, 76% of adults in the city were fully vaccinated and 95% were partially vaccinated. The needle isn’t going to move much more. It seems that the goal of the restaurant mandate wasn’t adult vaccinations, but forcing parents to vaccinate their children: the mandate applies to everyone at least 5 years and 3 months of age.

When will enough be enough? The high level of vaccination in the city, and the extremely low risk for children to catch a severe case of COVID, should be enough of an argument to stop a vaccine mandate. Restaurants, too, should not be required to enforce a mandate and confront customers. And yet, the usurpation of government power in the name of public health continues apace.

The biomedical state is here, and it will not go gently into that good night. Public officials believe they are entitled to enforce rules as they see fit if they can connect it, no matter how weakly, to the concept of public health. This will not go away after COVID fades, nor will it end COVID as a threat much quicker.

You’d never know it from the masking rules pushed onto the young, but since the beginning of the pandemic, fewer than 300 children have died from COVID, according to the CDC. It’s wonderful that we have a vaccine that protects at-risk children, but demanding that parents vaccinate them for something that is an extremely minor risk should not be something local governments have the power to do.

Yet, ever since mandates, lockdowns, and whatever else in the name of public health have become a tool governments can deploy as they see fit, that’s what we get. It’s unlikely that the mandate will make a meaningful difference in how many serious cases we have in the city, but public health officials get to make a demand and blame any scofflaws for problems that pop up.

Philadelphia is simply following along with the rest of the country, focused on pleasing the hypochondriacs rather than focusing on something useful, like making sure testing is quick and easy to access. Instead, free at-home test giveaways run out of supply while finding an appointment time is nearly impossible.

Vaccines have been freely available to the most at-risk for almost a year. If you’re over 40, a vaccine will give you a big protective boost from a serious case of COVID, avoiding an unnecessary risk. But it’s been a year. If people want to go without and put themselves at risk, it’s on them. The alternative, of an increasingly heavy-handed government punishing citizens, isn’t fit for a free society.

    • Anthony Hennen

      Anthony Hennen is executive editor of Philadelphia Weekly. He is managing editor of expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region. Previously, he was managing editor at the James […]

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