We’ve come a long way over the last year. Nebraska has managed the coronavirus pandemic without lockdowns, without statewide mandates, and without vaccine passports. We have the third-lowest fatality rate from COVID-19 in the country. And we’ve fully vaccinated 87.5% of our 65+ population.
I encourage all eligible Nebraskans to get vaccinated. We know the vaccines are effective in reducing severe cases, hospitalizations, and death. The vaccine is especially critical for elderly Nebraskans. Over eighty percent of the deaths we’ve seen in Nebraska have been among those 65+. Whatever your age and health status, please consult your doctor and have a conversation about the vaccine.
While we’ve protected hospital capacity and encouraged vaccination, the State of Nebraska has avoided using the heavy hand of government to mandate health requirements. This is a stark contrast to the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach. Earlier this month, President Biden announced that employers with 100 or more employees would be forced to require proof of vaccination—or submit to an onerous testing regimen—as a condition of employment. The President’s vaccine mandate is a stunning violation of personal freedom and a blatant abuse of the federal government’s power.
The vaccine mandate puts working Americans in an unfair position. No one should have to choose between losing the job that feeds their family or getting a shot that many do not want or feel uncertain about. Some people have told me they’re choosing not to get the vaccine right away because they don’t know who to believe. The CDC has reversed course on everything from the need to deep-clean surfaces, to the importance of wearing masks outdoors, to the necessity of face coverings for vaccinated Americans. This has undermined public trust.
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President Biden’s vaccine mandate contradicts his previous statements and undermines trust in his administration. In December 2020, he said “I don't think [the vaccine] should be mandatory. I wouldn't demand it to be mandatory.” In July, the President’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said vaccine mandates are “not the role of the federal government.” Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has also flip-flopped on vaccine mandates. Last month, he said, “I feel that we should not have central [vaccine] mandates from the federal government.” He also is on record as saying, “I don't see [a vaccine mandate] on a national level merely because of all the situations you have upon encroaching upon a person's freedom to make their own choice of their own health.” These about-faces have caused many people around the country to distrust political leaders and public health officials.
We must also consider that it takes time to educate the public. A typical vaccine can take up to 10–15 years to develop. While it was an amazing scientific feat to develop this vaccine in under a year, people need to be able to digest information about it. For example, it’s not yet clear how natural immunity from prior infection compares to vaccine immunity. Some who have already been infected want to learn more before being vaccinated. Others are uncertain how vaccination may affect an existing health condition. As the information on vaccines disseminates, it’s going to take time to give people the level of comfort they need to get vaccinated. It’s wrong for government to threaten Americans with the loss of their job if they don’t want to get vaccinated.
In addition to dictating the personal health choices of workers, the vaccine mandate puts businesses in a difficult position. It turns employers into the government’s health police. If the mandate stands, it will create a dangerous precedent. Any administration will be able to declare an emergency, publish OSHA rules, and make private businesses enforce federal policies. The vaccine mandate also imposes a huge cost on businesses, many of whom are now scrambling to find a way to pay for the frequent testing that must be done for workers who choose not to vaccinate.
Vaccination is a very personal choice and trying to threaten people into compliance breeds resentment without producing the intended result. Some people considering vaccination will not get the shot now because they feel bullied by the government. Others are willing to quit their jobs rather than be forced to vaccinate. Ultimately, the vaccine mandate is counterproductive. In fact, fewer Nebraskans sought vaccinations the week after Biden’s vaccine mandate announcement than the week before.
The State of Nebraska will muster all of the tools at our disposal to oppose this overreaching mandate. On September 16th, the Attorneys General (AGs) of 24 states—including Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson—sent a letter to President Biden condemning his vaccine mandate. They provided evidence to demonstrate that the mandate is illegal. The AGs accused the President of reaching for “new and startlingly broad powers” in his attempt to impose the “unlawful and harmful” mandate, and they pledged to “seek every available legal option to hold [the President] accountable and uphold the rule of law.”
As we move forward, we’ll continue to do what’s best for Nebraska. We’ll support our hospitals and healthcare workers as they work to keep people healthy. We’ll also continue to encourage Nebraskans to take personal responsibility for their health decisions. If you have questions about Nebraska’s coronavirus response, please contact me at email@example.com or by calling 402-471-2244. In the coming weeks, stay tuned to www.governor.nebraska.gov for updates on the State of Nebraska’s work to push back on President Biden’s federal overreach.
Pete Ricketts is the governor of Nebraska.