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October 18, 2021

We Should’ve Said “Requirement” Rather Than “Mandate”

Words matter.

I’m very pro Covid-19 vaccinations as a way to turn that virus from the root of a pandemic to just one more background pathogen like its many flu-causing cousins. I do think that students, teachers, health care workers, people coming into the country, people on trains, planes, busses, and many others should be vaccinated.

I’ve been saying “vaccines should be mandated.” That phrase, I’m afraid, helps cause resistance to vaccination. What I should have been saying is that vaccines should be required in many cases.

What’s the difference? A mandate would be “all adults need to be vaccinated”. That’s different than a requirement that all medical workers must be vaccinated. We live with requirements all the time. All doctors need to meet educational and experience requirements. Nurses have different requirements. Drivers of hazardous vehicles are required to take drug tests (and, by implication, are required NOT to take certain drugs). Other vaccines are required for students in many states.  We don’t call these requirements “mandates”.

“All adults must be vaccinated” is a mandate you can’t escape unless you are Peter Pan. A requirement that you must be vaccinated to be a health care worker can be met by deciding not to become a health care worker. The requirement for vaccination to go to public school can be and is avoided by home schooling or private school. If your religion says that you can’t be vaccinated and vaccination is a requirement for riding on public transport, you are free to practice your religion by not riding public transport.

Mandates mean you have no choice. Requirements mean you have a choice, but your choice has consequences which are yours to bear. If you choose not to take periodic flight physicals, you choose not to be a pilot. But it is your choice.

It’s probably too late to put the “mandate” genie back in the bottle. Nevertheless, “mandate”  was the wrong word to use, and I believe the word “mandate” has stiffened some people’s resistance to vaccination. While I wait for my third shot, I’m going to practice saying “requirement”.

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