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Forget bad policies that crippled economy, schools in pandemic? That’s a terrible idea

Sacramento Bee - 11/4/2022

“Let’s declare a pandemic amnesty,” Brown economist Emily Oster recently wrote in The Atlantic. Oster’s thesis: We didn’t know much about COVID, people in power made some good and bad decisions handling it, let’s all just pardon the folks responsible for bad policies and move on.

The moral imperative to “forgive and forget” comes straight from the Good Book itself. It’s not a bad way to live when it comes to personal relationships, but when it involves harmful global policy during a pandemic? Pandemic amnesty is impossible; accountability and a plan for future disasters would serve America best.

Oster’s proposal sparked lively debate online because the people who supported policies that crippled economies, shuttered schools and covered faces have now realized how harmful it was, and they want to be let off the hook for it.

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers union, who pushed to keep campuses closed during the pandemic, not only voiced surprise that kids are struggling academically after millions attended only virtual school for more than a year, she also supported the idea that we should “forgive and forget.”

This all started after Janine Small, a Pfizer executive, recently said that the pharmaceutical company did not know whether its COVID-19 vaccine prevented transmission of the virus and that Pfizer never claimed to have tested this. Onlookers reacted with anger and disgust. Factcheck.org took aim at the outraged stating, “It’s Not News, Nor ‘Scandalous,’ That Pfizer Trial Didn’t Test Transmission.”

Yes, it is.

Whether Pfizer, or state and federal government officials said it out loud — and perhaps it was a grievous presumption on their part — people in power, from Dr. Anthony Fauci to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told everyone to do their part, get vaccinated, and “stop the spread.”

The World Health Organization dubbed mid-April “World Immunization Week 2021” with their theme “Vaccines Bring Us Closer,” pushing the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC touted a similar campaign, “Vaccinate with Confidence.” UNICEF was probably the most blatant: Their campaign was “I vaccinate for you.” It was specifically targeted to encourage people to get the shots. Often, compliance became a more powerful theme than vaccination.

In many states, based on the presumption that the vaccine stopped transmission, local and state officials required the vaccine on the penalty of banishment from many public places. Under their preferences, the unvaccinated would not be able to dine out, go to school, attend the movies or parties, worship, travel on an airplane, or even be employed.

In fact, a state judge in New York City just ruled that the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers was enacted illegally and the 1,750 employees who were fired for refusing to comply with the mandate and get vaccinated must be immediately reinstated with back pay.

People who sided with officials on vaccine mandates vilified others who questioned the efficacy of the vaccine, mandates for shots or masks or shuttering schools. Whether it was laymen or lawmakers who questioned the status quo, vaccine zealots called anyone who stood up to the mandates, “Grandma-killers,” feckless, reckless, or murderers.

When kids finally went to school they were bullied for not keeping their masks on their noses — masks that hardly fit their tiny faces. People who hesitated to receive a vaccine that had been rushed through formulation and testing might as well have been members of a fundamentalist religious cult.

Parents who refused to vaccinate their children because their bodies are still changing and it was unclear what this rushed vaccine may do to boys’ growing hearts and girls’ developing ovaries, were told they were complicit in spreading a disease thatwas killing elderly people by the hundreds of thousands.

These were not quick spats or small disagreements but deep lines in a culture war with already-polarized sides.

To pretend that the officials who made these rules and forced compliance were in the dark is Gaslighting 101: All kinds of people, from parents to state officials such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, knew better. In fact, he did better. When he realized data did not support keeping schools closed or mask mandates, Abbott took a stand. He opened schools, removed masks mandates and allowed businesses to reopen and thrive.

Texans are better off for it. In states where local officials relished the authoritarian power that the pandemic gave them, children are behind, business owners are drowning in debt, and people now no longer trust their local governments.

I’m not against the vaccine; at the least, it mitigates illness and death. I’m against government officials using their power and the little they knew about virus transmission to dictate people’s lives via mandates for almost two years in some parts of the country. People’s choices, even some constitutional rights, were taken away based on presumptions that turned out to be false.

State and local officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who mandated a vaccine that they weren’t sure would “stop the spread” and used it as a weapon to bludgeon people with to get them to comply, must be held accountable. In the future, we must remember this trajectory so we do not repeat the mistakes again.

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