Tying the Hands of Public Health
In the wake of hundreds of bills restricting mask and vaccine requirements, Americans are now less prepared for the next pandemic.
Now that the COVID pandemic has ended, two facts have emerged:
First, this won’t be the last pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus. Pandemic coronavirus SARS-1 appeared in 2002, MERS in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019. That’s three pandemic viruses in the last 20 years. Novel influenza viruses can also cause pandemics. It’s safe to assume that we haven’t seen the end of this.
Second, from a public health standpoint, we are now far less prepared for the next pandemic than we were for this one. Federal, state, and local health departments that mandated masks and vaccines inadvertently leaned into a libertarian left hook. Between January 1, 2021, and May 20, 2022, more than 180 state laws were enacted that limited public health measures. For example, during the next pandemic:
• Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee will prohibit state governments, schools, or businesses from mandating masks.
• Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming will prohibit state public health agencies from mandating vaccines.
• Health officials in Ohio won’t be able to shutter businesses or schools, even if they are the epicenter of the outbreak. Nor will they be able to enforce quarantines, a staple of public health.
• The CDC, handcuffed by a ruling from one judge in Florida, will not be allowed to mandate masks for travel.
• Following a ruling by a Texas judge on March 23, 2023, the President will no longer be allowed to mandate a vaccine for federal employees.
“The courts are leaving us vulnerable,” said Wendy Parmet, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Health Policy and the Law.
Studies have now convincingly shown that masks and vaccines dramatically lessen the risk of catching and transmitting SARS-CoV-2 virus. These measures aren’t perfect. Some who are vaccinated, and some who wear masks, might still get a mild infection or transmit the virus. But the risk is lower. Much lower. Despite arguments from anti-vaccine activists and science denialists, this is no longer a scientific or medical controversy.
Ironically, the lesson learned from this pandemic appears to be that individual freedoms trump public health. “One day we’re going to have a really bad global crisis and a pandemic far worse than COVID, and we’ll look to the government to protect us, but it’ll have its hands behind its back and a blindfold on,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. “We’ll die with our rights on—we want liberty, but we don’t want protection.”
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"Ironically, the lesson learned from this pandemic appears to be that individual freedoms trump public health." - On the contrary, the lesson is that when draconian public 'health' measures are imposed top down, in spite of obvious trade offs, and without proper acknowledgement of those trade offs, for too long, and at too great cost, there will be significant blowback.
The public health leaders and politicians only have themselves to blame for what you describe well as a 'libertarian left hook.' When you push people too far, when you cross internationally agreed ethical lines, people will naturally come out swinging. Everyone with their eyes open saw this coming. The only ones who didn't foresee it are those whose are so arrogant that their heads are somewhere we don't talk about in polite society.
I’m not aware of any country that stopped the virus. Some were able to slow the spread until the vaccines, or omicron came along.
I also think public health cannot recover without complete disclosure of what was going on in the Wuhan laboratory. There used to be a major corporation called Enron. It no longer exists. Officials were caught destroying e-mail evidence. Destroying evidence is a crime. The Chinese destroyed evidence of what the lab was doing. That is a crime in itself, and until someone in the public health community raises this issue, no respect is due.