Of all the intrusions on Americans’ civil liberties during the COVID-19 pandemic, mandates forcing those who have already had the virus to vaccinate anyway are the hardest to understand. By now, what has been known for centuries – that survival confers immunity on the survivor – has been borne out in numerous well-regarded studies on COVID-19 recovery. Yet government officials continue to disregard them, insisting COVID-19 survivors get the shot like everyone else.
In September, the Biden Administration announced a mandatory vaccine policy that fails to recognize natural immunity. Notwithstanding his early assurances that vaccines would not be mandatory, President Biden ordered a vaccine mandate for federal workers. And he said that a similar rule for employees at large private companies would be forthcoming from the Department of Labor. That rule was released on Thursday, November 4th, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an emergency temporary standard (ETS) detailing the vaccination requirements. Many private companies had already begun to comply, issuing their own workplace mandates.
State and local governments are also requiring the vaccine. “In the coming months,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “[t]ens of thousands of U.S. workers across industries from healthcare to education to airlines and the military face dismissal if they fail to get vaccinated.” Among the workers facing the loss of their jobs are those who have already had the virus and recovered.
Why is the government doubling down on COVID-19 survivors?
In his Nobel-prize winning book, “Crowds and Power,” Elias Canetti suggests the answer. Survivors, he argues, whether of battle or disease, are a symbol of strength. He presents the reader with the profile of the epidemic survivor famously recounted by Thucydides:
[T]hose who had the plague themselves and had recovered from it … knew what it was like and at the same time felt themselves to be safe, for no-one caught the disease twice, or, if he did, the second attack was never fatal. Such people were congratulated on all sides, and they themselves were so elated at the time of their recovery that they fondly imagined that they could never die of any other disease in the future.
Survivors of the plague, in other words, were better off than if they had never gotten sick at all. What hadn’t killed them made them stronger, both in their own eyes and the eyes of others.