More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available. But with the virus and fear of it still rampant, one question that our society faces is whether businesses should be allowed to require vaccines for people to be able to use their goods and services.
The answer should be a resounding no. Particularly when considering the amount of power private companies have accumulated, vaccination mandates and the tools needed to enforce them would create an opportunity for corporate oligarchs to accumulate unchecked power, undermining human rights, social cohesion, and even public health in the process. The threat to liberty, and to society, would be severe.
Why vaccine mandates infringe upon bodily autonomy and private property
The ability to control one’s body is a fundamental aspect of property rights. As John Locke wrote in his Second Treatise on Government:
“Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”
The state of being owned by another is a state not of freedom, but of serfdom and subjugation. This is the direction policies such as COVID-19 vaccine mandates take us.
By requiring people to get a COVID-19 vaccine to use their services, businesses would be infringing upon bodily autonomy and ownership by mandating the injection of a foreign substance. While some may argue that companies are simply protecting public health and exercising their property rights by requiring a vaccine, similar to how some businesses require face coverings to enter, or the well known “no shirt, no shoes, no service”, there is a clear line that is crossed with vaccine mandates that does not exist in these other circumstances.
The main difference is that vaccines are irreversible treatments. If someone, for example, chooses not to wear a mask; or perhaps has endorsed a barefoot lifestyle, their actions are only limited by such mandates when and where they are involved in the use of someone else’s property, such as being physically present at a business or purchasing a good or service. Once the transaction is over and the person has left the property, they are free to remove masks, shirts, shoes and other items.
A vaccine, on the other hand, is something injected into a person’s body that cannot be removed after the fact. It is permanent in its effects, and carries the possibility of side-effects. The impact on a person’s lifestyle thus extends beyond the private property of businesses and into the domain of their private lives, their homes, and their own bodies.
Because private businesses control many of the necessary goods and services for the day to day function of society, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate would make it such that relinquishing one’s ownership of their own body becomes necessary to participate as a full member of society.
Vaccine mandates would fuel misinformation, and hurt public health
A common counterargument to claims based on individual liberty is that the virus is so dangerous that public health must be weighed more heavily, and that desperate times call for desperate circumstances. But even if this is true, businesses requiring COVID-19 vaccines from customers is counterproductive because it exacerbates the political forces that push people to reject vaccines.
Conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine are rampant. Claims that it is reprogramming our DNA or that it is a bioweapon aimed at reducing the population have become increasingly common. The idea of vaccine mandates and censorship attempting to bring about higher uptake lends a massive amount of credibility to the notion that there is an ulterior motive behind it.
If we believe that the science is truly on the side of the vaccines and the conspiracy theories are false, this should be a source of confidence that people will get the vaccine when presented with the facts. Relying on measures such as mandates to get people vaccinated would only portray a lack of confidence in the science behind the pro-vaccine position. To those in doubt, such authoritarian measures only make the stance of those advocating for the vaccine look weak, and their motives suspicious.
Vaccine mandates create a pretext for political persecution
Yet, even if concerns around bodily autonomy and an ideological backlash that hurts public health are not sufficient on their own to refute the claim that vaccine mandates by businesses are justified, the influence that such mandates would have on our culture does.
Whether we like it or not. things like masks, vaccines, and lockdowns have become ideologically charged topics. Accepting or rejecting these things has become every bit as much about virtue signaling and professing loyalty to one’s ideology as it is about protecting individual liberty or public health. With the growing hostility between political factions in America, this is very dangerous.
While some may argue that individuals may simply choose to only support those businesses who do not require the vaccine, the solution is not that simple when considering the sociopolitical context. Denying people who have not received the vaccine the ability to access certain goods and services would either create an underclass in society, or drive people to create their own distinct and separate venues from the rest of the body politic in which to do business vaccine free.
By forcing people away from their business by mandates that are closely associated with ideology and political factions, businesses that require the vaccine would be contributing to the acceleration of the process by which the community bonds between Americans have been broken down. Thus, society would become divided into tribal factions with their own distinct commercial centers, or perhaps none at all for the anti-vaccine faction. This further enables the “us vs them” dynamic that is often the basis for civil war, persecution, and oppression.
Because vaccine mandates are very public in nature, and to be enforced effectively would require that people have some form of proof of vaccine, vaccination status or the lack thereof (depending on who holds political power in a particular region) could become a identifier used to mark members of the opposite faction for separation from society, dehumanization, and persecution. If this sounds too radical to be true, consider how we have already seen workplace violence and violence by customers against employees over the enforcement of mask mandates.
Already, responses to COVID-19 have divided our society and caused people to feel morally justified in disregarding the rights of others. Widespread vaccine mandates that separate some members of society from the rest would create the perfect opportunity for violent and possibly even deadly persecution to take place.
Pro-vaccine people would see anti-vaccine people as an imminent danger, the latter would see the former as oppressing them. Thus, by separating these groups from one another and making their members easily identifiable, mandatory vaccination would lead to a perfect rationalization for extreme reprisals against those deemed too dangerous due to their stance on the vaccine.
A vaccine against tyranny
Vaccines can be a safe and effective way to bring an end to a pandemic. But in 2021 America, the most potent virus is not COVID-19 but rather the drive to quash individual liberty. We must inoculate ourselves against tyranny before it infects every level of society.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.