Ideally, vaccines should not require mandates at all. They are highly effective, free and widely available. But millions of Americans are still hesitant. In a small number of cases, they can and should get religious or health exemptions. A larger share of people have been exposed to destructive disinformation and misinformation about vaccines, accelerated by social media. The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates are that 79.1 percent of eligible Americans are vaccinated with at least one shot or definitely plan to get it, 8 percent say they probably will or are unsure, and 13 percent say definitely not. That latter figure is down from 19 percent in early June.
Closing the gap — getting vaccines to those who are willing and as many of the wavering as possible — is key to ending the pandemic. With a contagious variant still circulating, a high percentage of people must gain immunity, either through infection or through vaccines, to slow and halt virus transmission. We aren’t yet at the tipping point. This is the reasoning behind the president’s decision to mandate shots for the federal government and all who contract with it by Dec. 8, and to issue a Labor Department rule mandating vaccination in larger businesses. The rule is expected to be promulgated soon. Mr. Biden has left the door open for people to choose regular testing as an alternative. No campaign of mandates is going to be foolproof or easy; many businesses are worried about losing employees in a tight labor market. But that disruption is far less costly than would be another pandemic wave of covid.
Mr. Abbott now throws a wrench into the complex situation with an executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates by any entity in Texas. Many businesses may decide to comply with the higher-level federal order in any case. But the governor’s ill-considered action will stir confusion and uncertainty. It may encourage holdouts, leaving more people in Texas vulnerable to a disease that has already killed more than 68,000 residents.
Republicans lately have been rallying against Mr. Biden’s vaccine mandate as an infringement on personal liberty. This is foolish logic. The mandate is intended to save lives, and thus jobs, economies and families. Do the Republicans intend to next rebel against mandatory automobile seat belts? Do they think a mandatory stop at a stop sign limits their freedom? Do they dislike mandatory fire alarms? After so much loss and death last year and this, it is time to accept that vaccine and mask mandates protect us all. Let’s get on with ending the pandemic.