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Sept. 2, 2021, 2:58 p.m. EDT

‘Vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties,’ the ACLU writes in an op-ed

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By Katherine Wiles

Almost everywhere a vaccine mandate has been announced in the U.S., some people have protested — whether it’s a requirement for California’s health care workers , employees at a New York hospital or Air Force Academy cadets .

Many people opposed to vaccine mandates say the requirement infringes upon their personal freedom. But the American Civil Liberties Union — the “ nation’s guardian of liberty ” — strongly disagrees. The organization says it sees “no civil liberties problem with requiring COVID-19 vaccines in most circumstances,” it wrote in a New York Times op-ed Thursday

“In fact, far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties,” the ACLU wrote. “They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated and communities of color hit hard by the disease.”

The essay goes on to argue that vaccine mandates, much like mask mandates, are necessary public health measures to keep people from becoming ill and dying. COVID-19 is highly transmissible and often lethal, the ACLU writes, while the vaccines are safe and effective.

Most important, “there is no equally effective alternative available to protect public health.”

Exceptions should, of course, be made for those who cannot get the vaccine for a medical reason, they write. For people who oppose the vaccine on religious grounds, the ACLU says that while religious freedom is an essential right, it’s “not an unfettered license to inflict harm on others.”

Unless someone has a valid medical reason for not getting the vaccine, “avoiding a deadly threat to the public health typically outweighs personal autonomy and individual freedom.”

And now that the Food and Drug Administration has formally authorized the Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.70% and BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -2.80% vaccine, more employers are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. Companies including Disney /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -1.12% , Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -5.05% , Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -3.04% , Lyft /zigman2/quotes/208999293/composite LYFT -2.52% , McDonald’s /zigman2/quotes/203508018/composite MCD -1.23% and Netflix /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.78% have instituted some form or another of vaccine mandates for at least some of their employees.

(See MarketWatch’s running list of vaccine mandates here.)

And President Joe Biden has encouraged employers to put vaccine mandates in place after the Pfizer vaccine received FDA approval.

“Do what I did last month. Require your employees to get vaccinated or face strict requirements,”  Biden said last week , referring to the requirement for many federal workers.

The real threat to individual freedom, the ACLU writes, comes from states banning mask and vaccine mandates. Florida, Iowa, South Carolina and Texas have all attempted to ban either mask mandates or vaccine mandates — and sometimes both.

“But these bans directly endanger the public health and make more deaths from the disease inevitable. They trample the rights of the most vulnerable, who want to participate in society without putting their health at grave risk,” the ACLU writes.

That, the op-ed concludes, is precisely why the ACLU supports vaccine mandates.

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