I do not want to cause any panic. Many of us already have anxiety around the Covid-19 virus and the changes it is causing to our way of life. But as we navigate the new rules, emergency orders, and shelter in place requirements, I was interested in what other powers the State of Georgia has during a pandemic.
O.C.G.A. § 31-12-3. Power to require immunization and other preventive measures states in pertinent part:
“(a) The department and all county boards of health are empowered to require, by appropriate rules and regulations, persons located within their respective jurisdictions to submit to vaccination against contagious or infectious disease where the particular disease may occur, whether or not the disease may be an active threat. The department may, in addition, require such other measures to prevent the conveyance of infectious matter from infected persons to other persons as may be necessary and appropriate.”
Vaccines are not new. Yet Georgia law gives a religious freedom exception to most vaccines required under this law. A person simply has to object in writing that the “immunization conflicts with his religious beliefs.” EXCEPT, in the case of an epidemic. “In the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof, this Code section shall not apply to any person who objects in writing thereto on grounds that such immunization conflicts with his religious beliefs.” O.C.G.A §31-12-3(b). Translated, if there is an epidemic then the requirement to take a mandated vaccine applies to everyone, no exceptions.
As of today, there is not an agreed upon vaccine for Covid-19 but they are working on it.[i]
Today, Georgia and the rest of the country are taking strong stances to prohibit the freedom of movement of its citizens to help “lower the curve.” There are some who argue we have already gone too far by enforcing curfews and ordering individuals to stay in their homes unless they fit a limited number of exceptions. Others are in support of the government stepping in and only wished that it occurred earlier.
Long after the virus has been contained, I am sure we will continue to have the debate about the acceptable number of human deaths before we willingly allow the government to restrict our freedoms in the future. Which freedoms are we willing to concede? Is limiting the ability to move freely asking too much? What about being forced to injecting new drugs into your body against your will?
Although Covid-19 is reportedly more deadly than the Flu, it has become the norm to accept some people die from the flu. Flu shots become available and are encouraged every year. Whether people elect to get it is up to them. It appears our government has decided the number of flu deaths each year are either acceptable or unavoidable, whereas the potential fall out from Covid-19 is more than America can reasonably allow.
We will also continue to debate how much economic decline caused by a communicable disease is acceptable before we allow the government to spend our tax dollars to bail out citizens and/or corporations. Who do we let fail? Does it matter that it was not the fault of businesses or citizens? In 2008, it was the financial and banking industry that turned its heads while bad mortgage practices tanked the economy. Does it make a difference if the government failed to act quickly enough to prevent the spread in the United States?
As it relates to O.C.G.A. §31-12-3, if I am forced to take a vaccine, will I also be forced to pay for it? For many, unfunded mandates are a step too far. However, if the government provides free vaccines for every American, is that socialism? Will we ensure American workers and American companies benefit from this huge government expense?
Personally, I tend to be risk adverse. I am complying with the local and state laws and orders to stay home, close the courts, close my business, and keep my children home. I do not think it is too much to ask and it is not worth the risk. However, I am also concerned with the risk associated with the government to forcing me to take some new drug for a situation unprecedented for our country. I would rather wait a little and observe how the vaccine works out for the initial courageous guinea pigs before I let THIS government inject me all willie nilly.