The Wrong Time for Questions

Sept. 16, 2021

What the Consumer Brands Association should be telling Joe Biden.

The decision by President Biden to mandate COVID testing for unvaccinated employees of firms with 100 or more workers is, predictably, sparking a backlash.

Among the more conspicuous manifestations of this, we have an open letter from Geoff Freeman, head of the Consumer Brands Association, to Biden, dated Sept. 13. It acknowledges “our shared goal of increased vaccination rates” but then swings into a long list of questions about how the mandate is going to be implemented.

Many of the questions are good ones, like who will have to pay for testing of employees who refuse to get vaccinated. (Personally, I’d be comfortable leaving that up to individual companies.) Others seem absurdly obvious, like the first one: “What is considered documentation for proof of vaccination and how will booster doses be factored into compliance?” I assume that Freeman has heard of the vaccination record cards issued by the CDC, which have spaces for recording booster shots.

More broadly, Freeman’s attitude really isn’t what is needed right now. I appreciate what he’s trying to do, but one of the biggest reasons that the pandemic is hanging around as long as it has is because a lot of journalists, politicians and others keep “asking questions.” Some of these, like Freeman’s, are in good faith; many are nothing but an attempt to pander to a lot of ignorant, angry voters and viewers.

Freeman’s questions aren’t bad, but his emphasis is misplaced. Here’s what I would have written to Biden if I headed the Consumer Brands Association:

Dear Mr. President:

THANK YOU!!!

You have taken the members of my association off the hook. We all are desperate to get our workforces vaccinated and put this national nightmare behind us

Some of us, like Tyson Foods, have moved to require vaccinations from their workforces. But doing so means entering a minefield, with recriminations and accusations of heavy-handedness. Sometimes it means contradicting laws and mandates of state authorities.

More importantly, a pandemic is not something that can be fought piecemeal, with every individual and company deciding for themselves whether to take part in the battle. To be effective, vaccination must be as widespread as possible, so that herd immunity is achieved.

Removing ambiguity from the situation through your executive order is just what was needed. Thanks to you, our members will no longer have to make the tough decision to require vaccinations in the face of the massive (and inexplicable) backlash that has erupted against the COVID vaccines.

We will be in touch to discuss questions and concerns about the implementation of this mandate. But for now, thank you for stepping up and relieving us of a responsibility that properly belongs with this nation’s public health authorities.

Sincerely,

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