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Texas Governor Bans Private Businesses from Mandating COVID Vaccines

The hypocritical move is bad public health policy but, the governor is betting, good politics.

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday that bars all entities, including private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for workers or customers. He joins lawmakers in Montana and Florida, who’ve instituted similar policies.

“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason,” the order reads. It also establishes a fine of up to $1,000 for violating the order and calls on the Texas legislature to pass a law to the same effect.

As a matter of public health, the order is clearly a step in the wrong direction. Vaccine mandates increase vaccination levels, and increased vaccination levels mean milder COVID cases, fewer patients in the hospital, and lower community spread of the virus. The order almost acknowledges this, saying that COVID vaccines are “strongly encouraged for those eligible to receive one” before doubling down that they “must always be voluntary for Texans.”

But as so often happens, the obvious objective good that a vaccine mandate would do is being discarded in favor of political maneuvering even when that position—interfering in the decisions made by private individuals and business owners—contradicts the ostensible raison d’etre of your party.

Framing vaccination as simply a matter of personal choice neglects the fact that an individual choosing not to be vaccinated puts everyone they interact with at risk. This kind of community responsibility doesn’t fit within the framework of personal responsibility that the GOP uses to demonize the poor and characterize even the stingiest social safety net as a slippery slope to full-blown communism.

That Abbott’s executive order—a document that carries the force of law—calls out the Biden administration for “bullying many private entities into imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates” tells you that it’s more about politics than sound public health practices.

Abbott is referencing the announcement a month ago that the Biden administration will implement a mandate that all employees of businesses with over 100 workers receive either a COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing. Whether that mandate supersedes Abbott’s order is a question that courts will undoubtedly decide.

If the federal law is deemed supreme, the Department of Labor’s rule will overrule Abbott, creating a policy that will save Texans’ lives. If not, more Texans will contract COVID-19 and potentially die so that Texans’ “right” to endanger themselves and their neighbors is preserved.