Tucker Carlson, Greg Abbott Take Wrecking Ball to Biden's Pandemic Plans

Two of the nation's most influential conservatives' recent comments on COVID-19 could spell trouble for President-elect Joe Biden's plans to tackle the ongoing the pandemic when he comes to office in January.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized the potential rollout of a COVID vaccine during his prime time show on Thursday and suggested it could be used as a form of "social control," while Texas Governor Greg Abbott argued that statewide shutdowns haven't worked and shouldn't be imposed any further.

Biden's plan relies on individuals and state governments voluntarily following federal guidelines to stop the spread of the virus until the number of people vaccinated reaches the critical mass required to control the disease.

While the president-elect intends to mandate mask-wearing on federal property, he has no plans to make vaccination mandatory or impose a national shutdown.

Instead, the new administration hopes to vaccinate 50 million people within the first 100 days and will depend on mass uptake of the vaccine to contain COVID long term. Before that happens, the Biden plan will depend on individual state governments continuing to take actions to arrest the spread.

"One thing that has been clearly apparent, and that is there's no governmental leader anywhere who has been able to figure out how COVID works," Abbott said on Thursday. "So the fact of the matter is it is time to put behind us shutdowns. No more shutdowns. We need to focus on opening up businesses."

The Texas governor's position on the issue is important as Republicans in his state have significant influence on GOP thinking more broadly. A recent Texas lawsuit aimed at challenging the 2020 presidential election results won support from 17 Republican-led states.

Carlson, who hosts the most watched cable news show in history and is one of the most influential figures on the right, cited a report about a woman who suffered side effects after receiving the vaccine on his Thursday program. He also criticized Twitter for clamping down on vaccine misinformation.

"So whatever you do, don't say this is social control because if you do, the richest, most powerful people in the world will act in perfect coordination to shut you down immediately," Carlson said.

If the millions of Americans who watch Carlson's show or are otherwise influenced by him decide to refuse the vaccine, it could sink any hope of vaccinations reaching the necessary critical mass. This, combined with Republican-led states reopening, is a potential disaster for the new administration's plan.

But Biden may not be able to address these issues at federal level. Legal and public health expert Joanne Rosen told Johns Hopkins University's Center for Law and the Public Health on November 20 that state vaccine mandates were possible but might not be the most effective approach.

"Once COVID vaccines are available, states could elect to require that people who live within that state be vaccinated," Rosen said but later added: "A requirement that people be vaccinated is only as effective as the way of ensuring that they are."

Prof Micah Berman of Ohio State University's College of Public Health & Moritz College of Law told Newsweek that there are also potential legal barriers to nationwide public health mandates.

"An aggressive reading of CDC authority might allow for it, but that would likely get caught up—and potentially overturned—in a court challenge," Berman said.

"More importantly, there's no way of enforcing a mask mandate at federal level, so its practical impact would be limited. Plus, it would likely engender a lot of pushback and further politicize the issue of wearing masks, which would be counterproductive."

"Vaccine mandates are set at the state level, with the federal government regulating the manufacturing and providing recommendations," Berman went on.

"States are unlikely to set mandates while we have limited supply and while the vaccines have not yet received full FDA approval (currently, they're receiving emergency authorizations).That may or may not come at some point down the line, the focus at the moment should be on making access as widespread and as easy as possible."

President-elect Joe Biden Speaks in Wilmington, Delaware
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event to announce new cabinet nominations at the Queen Theatre on December 11, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden's plans to tackle COVID-19 have run into opposition from prominent conservatives. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images