Republicans Are Rewarding People for Refusing the Vaccine | Opinion

Five Republican-led states—Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, and Tennessee—have extended unemployment benefits to anyone who loses their job because they refused a COVID vaccine. In general, workers who quit or are fired for cause are not eligible for unemployment, but these Republican states have carved out exceptions for those who refuse the vaccine, the Washington Post reported, and more Republican states may soon follow.

In other words, Republicans are rewarding people for refusing the vaccine.

This is insanity. In the midst of an uptick in a deadly pandemic, it is absolutely ludicrous to give people an incentive to refuse to the vaccine. And if you tell me that benefits do not incentivize behavior, allow me to direct your attention to the many Republicans who have spent their careers arguing that unemployment incentivizes laziness.

Indeed, it is not only insanity for Republicans to be expanding these benefits; it is hypocritical insanity. After all, not so long ago Republican states cut unemployment benefits because, they thought, they encouraged people not to find jobs. "Transitioning away from this benefit will help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire and expand their workforce," said a Florida government official in June, 2021.

In other words, first they tried to take benefits away to incentivize people going out and finding a job, and now they are offering benefits to people who have chosen to walk away from a job over a life saving vaccine. And here I thought Republicans were all about letting Americans run their business without government interference!

Republicans claim that they want to make the COVID vaccine a matter of choice. Kansas State Legislature President, Ty Masterson, for example, tweeted that the "pathway out of this pandemic is paved in freedom, which means trusting individual Kansans to make decisions for themselves and their families." But if the pathway to safety is indeed "paved in freedom," why stop with COVID vaccines? There are many other government mandates that stand in the way of freedom.

Seatbelts, for example: Most states have mandatory seatbelt laws (New Hampshire is the exception) for adults. All states mandate that children must be buckled in. But if you say, as one Washington, DC, parent did about schools mandating a COVID vaccine, "it should be my husband's and my choice—not theirs," why not make seatbelts subject to parental choice as well? Shouldn't we trust parents to know and do what's best for their children?

Ron DeSantis, 2022 Budget Proposal, Police Bonuses
In Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' budget proposal for the upcoming year, it requests $99.7 billion for a slew of items, including increasing salaries for state workers, the minimum salary for public school teachers, and bonuses for principals and public school teachers. In this photo, DeSantis speaks during an event to give out bonuses to first responders held at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on August 10, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Each state also requires that children receive various vaccines (polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella) before entering kindergarten. But Republican logic says that should parents have the right to not immunize their kids. Maybe another polio epidemic results, but that's the price of freedom, it seems!

Moreover, by their logic, if getting a vaccine is a matter of choice, shouldn't hospitals and health insurance companies have the choice to refuse treatment to people who get sick because they refused the vaccine? Shouldn't they have the freedom to prioritize breakthrough cases and other, non-COVID related illnesses and diseases?

Republicans, after all, are supposed to favor holding people accountable for their behavior. Should an increasingly rare ICU bed go to someone who acted responsibly? Or irresponsibly?

These choices are going to be made one way or another. The situation is getting desperate. Recently, six Cleveland area hospitals placed a full-page ad in the Plain Dealer begging for help because they are overwhelmed with COVID patients—and the overwhelming majority were unvaccinated. By federal law, all emergency rooms must treat all patients, regardless of their status. Perhaps this mandate, too, should go and it should be up to the individual doctor's, or the individual hospital's choice to treat or not treat.

There is no doubt that COVID vaccines prevent hospitalization and death, which makes the Republican move to incentivize vaccine refusal especially perverse. The sad fact is that COVID outcomes tracks the political map. Republican states that voted for Donald Trump like Arkansas, Florida, and Iowa have far higher COVID death rates than blue states which voted for Biden.

Refuse the vaccine, as the Republican legislatures seem to incentivize their constituents to do, and your chances of a very bad ending if you get COVID skyrocket.

The pathway out of the pandemic is not "paved in freedom" for these states; it's paved in gravestones.

Which is the most perverse result of all. In their drive to oppose any and all Democratic policies, Republicans are leading their followers to an early grave. Truly, the Republican Party has turned into a death cult.

Peter C. Herman is a Professor of English Literature San Diego State University.

The views in this article are the writer's own.