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.
Thucydides’s understanding of natural immunity has stood the test of time. Writing for the Brownstone Institute, Harvard Medical School professor Martin Kulldorff observes that has been the case with other coronaviruses found in the population, “We also have natural immunity after Covid-19 disease, as there have been exceedingly few reinfections with serious illness or death, despite a widely circulating virus.” That natural immunity actually provides better immunity than a vaccine, he concludes, referencing a widely cited Israeli study.
Another outspoken critic of imposing vaccine mandates on COVID-19 survivors is Dr. Marty Makary. He faults our public health institutions for failing to come forward with good information on COVID-19 in general and on natural immunity in particular, especially compared to the caliber of studies coming out of highly vaccinated countries like Israel. The dearth of data on naturally acquired immunity makes no sense in a country like the United States that “spends lavishly” on health care.
It does, however, give cover to obfuscating public health officials when they are asked to explain why they disregard naturally acquired immunity.
Equivocal messaging from the White House chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has compounded public uncertainty. As early as April of last year, The New York Times reported Fauci as saying he was “‘really confident’ that people who recover are protected against re-infection.”
But this past September, when asked whether the case could be made to COVID-19 survivors that they should get a vaccine notwithstanding natural immunity, Fauci replied, “I don’t have a really firm answer for you on that.” Finally, last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that according to Fauci, “vaccines are still the recommendation [over natural immunity] because there has been more precise research into vaccine-based immunity.”
The answer to Kulldorff’s astonishment lies not in science, however, but in history and politics. For as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began, the power-grabbing ensued, on every level. From governors’ never-ending executive lockdown decrees, to self-appointed experts and COVID-19 “task forces,” down to the neighborhood mask police, all who feared missing out on a good crisis seized control of what they could.
Vaccine mandates are the latest manifestation of the ongoing breakdown in the rule of law and the deprivation of civil liberties. As our public health authoritarians now toy with boosters in perpetuity, there is no end in sight to the amount of power they will seize — if allowed.
This is why the public health establishment won’t talk about, much less abide, natural immunity. They have no use for it. Indeed, it stands in the way. Those who have it don’t need the government to force the vaccine on them. They can survive on their own power.
That unique power is a poke in the eye to rulers who presume complete control. Despots, Canetti explains, “regard survival as their prerogative” and are therefore especially hostile to the challenge presented by survivors. To the health care despots who seek the ultimate power over others, the COVID-19 survivor’s natural immunity represents the greatest threat of all: the power of the individual.
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