I have both shots, but I can’t in good conscience comply with the vaccine regime.

An immunity passport from the Italian city of Montecchio, circa 1611. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Through no fault of my own, I am fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The timing is fortuitous, though: As of today, the city I call home (God willing, not for long) is requiring all of its citizens to prove they got the shot if they want any chance of participating in society.

Per order of the mayor, proof of vaccination against the Chinese virus must be shown upon entering all indoor dining, cultural, recreational, and event locations, from now until some indeterminate point in the presumably distant future.

The order includes a few notable exceptions. In an interesting reversal of the class hypocrisy at the heart of so much Covid tyranny, the employees of these establishments are not required to be vaccinated—only patrons. (Apparently one group poses a great risk to the other, but the virus cannot travel in the opposite direction.) No proof of the jab is required for those entering a facility to use the restroom, to order takeout, or to do any kind of contract work. (Previously, the implicit logic of the restaurant-health regime was that Covid could only catch us when we stood up from our tables; now it’s that Covid only targets people who sit down at them.) Retail establishments are entirely in the clear—as are (rather more justly) grocery stores, food banks, homeless shelters, and houses of worship. For no particular reason, I am sure, all government buildings are exempt.

No exception is made for those who can provide proof of a negative test, nor is there even any carveout for Washingtonians who have natural immunity against the virus from a previous infection. What’s more, the vaccine requirement is effectively laid on top of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s third citywide mask mandate. So even if you catch the virus, then recover, then test negative, and double-mask before heading anywhere, you still have to prove that you’ve taken an experimental drug to hopefully keep from catching the virus you already caught, because the mayor (unilaterally) says so.

Actually, it may not even be about keeping you from catching the virus; recently—right around the time we realized these vaccines don’t do a great job preventing transmission—the narrative turned on a dime to insistence that they were never supposed to stop transmission, but to mitigate the symptoms only of the vaccinated person himself once he contracts the virus.

Which is fine. There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus, and everything we do know suggests it’s worth taking seriously (though not hysterically). I wouldn’t fault anybody—especially anybody whose health or circumstances place him at increased risk—for choosing to trust what the medical establishment is telling him and taking the vaccine to lessen his chances of serious illness.

But the leap from that position to justifying Bowser’s order is impossible to make. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a libertarian; I would be more than willing to endure reasonable, temporary restrictions that demonstrably served the common good. But this is not demonstrably oriented toward the common good, it has not been shown to be reasonable, and we don’t even know if it’s temporary. Given everything we know about the virus and the vaccines, it is hard to imagine any set of coherent explanations for why the jab must be mandated for every single person who hopes to partake in the common life of the city. This is especially true in the District of Columbia, where case numbers have been incredibly low for months and the number of deaths attributed to Covid has not cracked out of single digits in any day since May of 2020—a full 20 months ago.

It is all the more concerning given the precedent we risk setting if we tolerate the vaccine mandates. As a number of conservatives have warned repeatedly these last few months, even begrudging compliance with irrational diktats issued by the Covidcrats gives the ruling class valuable strategic ground. Moving forward, we can only expect our government to become less sensible and more immoderate if we refuse to push back now. As TAC’s Helen Andrews wrote last week, “Once Americans get accustomed to scanning a QR code every time they enter a building, there is no limit to the surveillance and nudges that can be built on top of it.”

So I don’t know what to do here. I could easily comply; I have proof of the jab ready to go right on my phone. I need to show it if I want any part in so much of what makes city life good, worth living even under the rule of a Muriel Bowser and with a not insignificant risk of getting shot on a given day. (This latter point, by the way, calls into question the sincerity of the mayor’s interest in preserving the lives of citizens.) But I am far from convinced that the benefits of compliance—just like the benefits of enforcement—will really outweigh the costs.

I’m going to Virginia for dinner tonight. And many nights hereafter, I expect.

about the author

Declan Leary is associate editor of The American Conservative. He was previously an editorial intern at National Review and has been a frequent contributor to Crisis Magazine.

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