U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Peters), Senate candidate Sean Parnell (R-Ohio Township), and Allegheny County Councilor and Chairman of the Republican Caucus of Allegheny County Sam DeMarco (R-North Fayette) all referred to the vaccine policy as unconstitutional (even though the U.S. Constitution has allowed them in the past), and despite evidence that vaccines are a proven effective method of slowing transmission and reducing the likelihood of severe disease and hospitalization.
COVID-19 cases have been rising across the country, and in Pennsylvania, over the last two months, with the unvaccinated being the main culprit of community spread.
Parnell tweeted on Sept. 9, “This is insane & unconstitutional. @JoeBiden has no authority to do this. It won’t hold up in court, but that doesn’t matter to him. Just an unbelievable trampling of civil liberties," and then followed that up with a quippier tweet reading “Do not comply with unconstitutional mandates."
Several people who seemed to agree with Parnell’s anti-vaccine sentiment, however, pointed out that they need to keep their jobs. Others pointed Parnell to the constitutional precedent of such mandates from the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, in which the court upheld a Massachusetts vaccine mandate and ruled that the government can interfere with people’s actions for the sake of public safety.
“Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others,” wrote then Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan in the majority ruling.
DeMarco tied the vaccine mandate to Biden’s approval rating, which fell below 50% as troops were pulled out of Afghanistan, as well as “shifting the blame for [Biden’s] inability to control the virus,” even though his vaccine mandate is an attempt to control the virus. While Biden’s approval rating remains around 45%, according to statistics site FiveThirtyEight, a August poll shows that 64% of Pennsylvanians support major corporations requiring vaccinations or regular testing for their employees, and only 36% of Pennsylvanians oppose.
Reschenthaler’s retort about vaccine mandates was brief, asking people to retweet if they agreed that vaccine mandates are un-American. In response, people brought up the eradication of polio, which was achieved through a vaccine created and mass distributed by Jonas Salk in Pittsburgh.
Several others in response to the Pittsburgh-area Republicans comments brought up the American historical precedent of George Washington’s immunization mandate for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Washington, who was immune due to having survived smallpox as a teenager, recognized the danger to his troops and to the revolutionary cause if a wave of smallpox swept his army.
At the time, immunization was achieved through infecting people with the pus of an infected person, which was more dangerous than modern COVID vaccines, which the CDC has found are safe and effective.
Biden anticipated critiques from people like Parnell, DeMarco, and Reschenthaler, and in response to potential GOP challenges and lawsuits, he told reporters on Sept. 10 “Have at it.”