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Vaccination status as a civil rights issue

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If you had told me six years ago that in 2020 America would be struck by a pandemic that would end up killing close to one million people by the time it was more or less over (excess deaths in the USA since February of last year: 734,441), and that about a third of the adult population would end up refusing to take an almost completely effective and completely safe vaccine for the virus that was causing the pandemic, and that furthermore the Republican party would make refusing to be vaccinated a marker of loyalty to the Cause, I would have said “Come on, this country is screwed up, but it’s not that screwed up.”

Meanwhile, Republicans are rallying around their core principle that the property rights of private businesses must be subjected to heavy government regulation in order to protect the rights of all the right people:

State Republican lawmakers around the country are pushing bills — at least one of which has become law — that would give unvaccinated people the same protections as those surrounding race, gender and religion.

Why it matters: These bills would tie the hands of private businesses that want to protect their employees and customers. But they also show how deep into the political psyche resistance to coronavirus vaccine requirements has become, and how vaccination status has rapidly become a marker of identity.

The big picture: On a national scale, well-known GOP figures have recently escalated their rhetoric about the vaccination effort, comparing it to Nazi Germany and apartheid.

  • At a state level, there’s more bite to the bark. Many Republican-led states have enacted some kind of restriction on vaccine mandates or vaccine “passports.”
  • And some state lawmakersare trying to make it illegal for employers, governments or private businesses to treat unvaccinated people any differently than vaccinated people, using the same language found in federal civil rights law.

“When we think about the normal discrimination statutes…we have protected classes based on something that is sort of inherent to you, with religion maybe being the one that is a choice,” said Lowell Pearson, a managing partner at Husch Blackwell, which has been tracking the bills. “But vaccination status you certainly can control.”

Between the lines: The states with restrictions on vaccine requirements tend to have lower vaccination rates than those without such laws, and cases are on the rise in several of them.

  • Most of the measures are full of loopholes or have limited application, meaning unvaccinated residents may still face consequences for their decision.
  • But vaccine requirements aren’t very popular in general among employers, experts said, although it is relatively common among private businesses to have different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees or customers.

Rather, the laws and low vaccination rates in states that have them both stem from the politicization of vaccination.

  • “It’s difficult to see exactly why there’s such an intense reaction here, except through the lens of hyper-partisan politics; that this has just become another signal of party affiliation,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

Zoom in: Montana has made it illegal to “discriminate” on the basis of vaccine status, with some exceptions within the health care sector.

  • The law prohibits businesses, governmental entities and places of “public accommodation” — like grocery stores, hotels or restaurants — from refusing to serve or withholding goods from anyone based on their vaccination status or whether they have an “immunity passport.”
  • Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate against or refuse to employ someone based on the same criteria.
  • “This is a civil rights statute. It absolutely is,” Bagley said. “What this law is saying is that a restriction directed at the unvaccinated is prohibited in the same way as you’d be prohibited from putting up a sign saying, ‘no Irish admitted.'”

On the other hand, six years ago this week.

One thing that every journalist this side of Fox News should do as a matter of routine is insist that any politician who refuses to enthusiastically promote universal COVID vaccination reveal his or her own current vaccination status, while at the same time making clear that any refusal to answer this question means “I’m vaccinated against COVID, but I’m still OK with lots of people dying unnecessarily to advance the political agenda of Donald Trump and the Republican party.”

. . .

H/T pianomover.

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