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Will democracy return after COVID?

I’m fully vaccinated—two Moderna shots this summer. I’ve had lots of vaccinations in my life: as a kid I had them all. For global travel I had them all. I can’t recall any adverse reactions from those vaccinations. But as the COVID vaccines rolled out early this year, many of my friends got sick from them—some really sick. I began to hear reports of heart problems after some COVID vaccinations.

After hearing of these problems, I got my two Moderna vaccinations mostly because my government employer mandated it: COVID vaccinations or perpetual weekly testing—or get fired from my job.

This surprised me. Never before had any employer required vaccinations: not for the flu nor measles. Since all my pre-COVID vaccinations had gone OK and I’m pretty fit, I thought, “No problem.” But within four hours of the second Moderna shot, I was sick, and for about a week thereafter. For two days I was really sick and in bed.

A protester at the Washington State Capitol raises the same question. Photo by Lori Lively

We were told in 2020 that vaccination was the gateway out of COVID lockdowns. When even countries like heavily-vaccinated Israel had lots of new COVID cases, I began to get worried. Several friends and their family members got sick from COVID despite having been fully vaccinated.

Today nobody is promising the vaccine will prevent COVID—and everyone is talking about booster shots. Will I have to get sick with a new vaccination every few months as a condition of my employment, as each new variant of COVID emerges; perhaps for the rest of my life? Can my employer force me to do that, or fire me if I refuse—even if the vaccine is not very effective?

Never in my life have I heard of mandates so absolute that there was no reasonable way to opt-out. My own vaccine-created illness didn’t seem to matter. My devout Catholic friend says her request for an exemption based on religious objections was denied—and she was fired. My devout Jewish friend has already lost his job. All appeals appear to have been denied. There is a huge personal and social cost for these terminations. Lose your job, done, no recourse.

Are we going to summarily terminate a worker, perhaps an important, experienced worker and friend in the community? What ripple effects will their termination have as their blameless children lose healthcare? What will our community do as we lose the investment in their experience, knowledge—and friendship?

My union didn’t bother to ask our membership when they signed agreements binding me to vaccination or termination. Actually, I could have chosen to get tested weekly—at my personal cost—possibly in perpetuity.

Both my employer and my union agreed that my COVID vaccination data and any test results would be submitted to a company called “Qualtrics.” Their website motto as of a few days ago was: “Find Out What your Employees and Customers Aren’t Telling You.” Pretty chilling stuff, that in my world is equivalent to calling me a liar.

We are considered “Unvaccinated” until Qualtrics decides we’re OK. I don’t know what becomes of my personal and confidential medical data. It has become the property of the corporation—not me. Since these companies sell data or get hacked every day, will my personal medical data get hacked or sold? The privacy of my personal health data is important to me.

In a disturbing shift, we are no longer focused on the disease but on vaccinations—injections that we dearly hope are good for us. I see the people of Olympia, my hometown, hardening in their attitudes and it scares me. I see “Vaccinated Only” signs downtown that remind me of “Whites Only” signs. Are we really going to create a ‘COVID Jim Crow’ population in Olympia? Unvaccinated does not mean that a person is diseased. If you are unvaccinated, I personally welcome you.

Since I was forced to get an injection, and the abortion debate is back, I thought about a woman’s choice. Her right to terminate her pregnancy is good. “Her body, her choice.” Period. This has been a mantra for progressive-left voters for decades. But mandatory COVID injections—that’s OK?

I began to wonder, where was all the power coming from, that the COVID mandate could be dropped on me and my fellow union members?

The COVID emergency has lasted a long time—more than 20 months. Executive branch government officials at the county, state and national levels have had extraordinary powers over this period to mandate working conditions, impose requirements and set penalties using emergency declarations. Legislatures have been very quiet.

Emergency powers in government are usually limited in time and in scope. Legislatures may cede power for 90 to 180 days. In such situations, the legislative branch of government gives away some of the powers of democracy to the executive branch. That’s great for a hurricane or an earthquake.

What about an emergency that lasts 600+ days? When does the emergency end and normal democracy return? Do emergency powers last forever?

There are many nuances in life. Do you work at home? With colleagues or alone? How much interaction do you have with the public? Are you an EMT or an accountant? One of the most important parts of democracy is the listening to the voices and experiences of others. Might there be ways forward that keep people safe, short of an absolute mandate?

I ask that we consider a thing called a ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ standard. It says, in effect, that we must make some accommodations for the needs of others who may be at risk. The balancing of appropriate risks is something legislatures—democracy itself—are supposed to figure out.

Consider where we are right now. Without being asked, without voting, you can now be fired for not getting vaccinated or tested—with no democratic process involved. The mandate is absolute and without appeal. Your adherence will be subject to surveillance. Facilities are now segregated. This is the first time this has been done—but this situation could last forever.

If you are not OK with that, then we have to solve this democratically. And soon.

The writer is a resident of Olympia who has borrowed the name of Cassandra, a priestess who could foretell the truth—but was cursed never to be believed.


One Comment

  1. James Geluso January 14, 2022

    Yes, a reasonable accommodation standard makes sense. Such as for people whose medical conditions make the vaccine dangerous. Not for people who don’t have public-facing jobs (but still have to go out to the grocery store). Not for people who claim their religion stops them.

    And yes, we may have to get shots every six months for a very long time. And people who care about their own health and the health of others will do so. Because it’s not a big deal.

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