Covid-19 vaccine mandates have set up the ultimate showdown. If you don't comply, you might not be able to earn a living, get an education or take part in society. Already, there are mass firings, resignations and lawsuits. Now, a national mandate is on the way. Never before has the federal government mandated vaccination for such a large segment of society. And the resulting debate over freedom, science and government control is creating chaos from coast to coast.
New York City is entering week three of its historic mandate for anyone who wants to eat in a restaurant, drink at a bar, or work out at a large gym.
Bill de Blasio, New York City Mayor: If you want to participate in our society fully, you've got to get vaccinated. It's time.
While many New York businesses are following the rules, we found evidence that many others are looking the other way.
Out of four eateries we walked into last week that should have asked if we were staying to eat inside and required proof of vaccination, only one popped the question, three others did not.
Statewide, mixed compliance under New York’s mandate for hospital staff. With 72,000 still not vaccinated at the end of the month, the governor played the religion card.
Kathleen Hochul, Governor of New York: There are people out there who aren't listening to God and what God wants.
But there’s plenty of civil disobedience. A crowd stormed New York’s Staten Island Mall to try to eat without proof of vaccination.
Some NBA stars tried to hold out against local mandates that would force them to sit out games without pay. They got a passionate defense from teammate Draymond Green.
Draymond Green: Well you're not giving anyone freedom because you're making someone do something, essentially. Without necessarily making them, you're making them. That goes against everything American stands for or supposedly stands for.
There are already countless legal challenges moving through court. Teachers, police, and other first responders around the country, including 500 LA firefighters. And it’s about to get much bigger. Millions of federal workers and contractors are counting down toward a deadline to get vaccinated. And the mandate is about to expand to all private employers with 100 or more workers. About 100 million people, in all.
Lawrence Gostin heads up the World Health Organization Center on Global Health Law and advises the Biden administration.
Lawrence Gostin: Many people haven't been to work for a year and a half. And so, they're coming in, and they want to feel safe. And they're not going to feel safe unless you have a largely vaccinated population around you.
Sharyl: It sounds like, just based on what you just said, there are two components, there is a safety factor, but also a confidence factor that impacts the economy. Is that true?
Gostin: It's such a wonderful question. Yes, it absolutely is true. I actually do think that it's about protection primarily, but it will have economic benefits as well.
Sen. Ron Johnson: It's going to be a disaster for our healthcare industry and for many segments of our economy.
Senator Ron Johnson is a chief critic of federal vaccine mandates.
Sen. Johnson: Before President Biden announced the coercive, freedom robbing mandate from the federal government, hospitals were mandating vaccines, I've been hearing from their doctors, from their nurses, people that are heroes. They read the science, they see the study out of Israel that says that natural immunity is 13 to 27 times more effective than the vaccine. They're treating the injuries. They're not going to get vaccinated. They don't want to lose their job. They love their jobs, they love taking care of patients. But what they’re going to do is they're going to be terminated and then we are going to experience an enormous loss of manpower and experience and expertise in our healthcare system. It's already occurring.
It’s hard to quantify exactly how many have already quit or been fired over vaccine mandates. 600 at United Airlines. Teachers. First responders. Military troops. More than 3000 among a small sampling of hospital systems. There are already staff shortages and bed cuts at some hospitals.
Sharyl: Is there a possibility there's an economic backlash? Could this be economically bad instead of good?
Gostin: I don't think so. The history of mandates shows that you have an initial resistance to them, but once it becomes the norm and in everyday life, people just go back to work and do the things that they love to do.
Gostin says he expects very narrow religious and medical exemptions to be permitted.
And while federal workers and contractors won’t have a choice, he says private companies will be allowed the option of requiring Covid testing instead of vaccines.
But no exemption for natural immunity.
Sharyl: What would you say is your top gripe with vaccine mandates as being proposed by the Biden administration?
Rep. Thomas Massie: Do I only get one top gripe? I guess my top gripe is, they're unscientific.
Congressman Thomas Massie is another opponent of vaccine mandates.
Rep. Massie: The latest study shows that you're 27 times less likely to contract symptomatic Covid if you have immunity from prior infection, versus having the vaccine and never having been infected before. So why would you force those people to take the vaccine? It doesn't make any sense.
Sharyl: There are many scientists who have signed on to the notion that the bulk of studies are showing natural immunity, if you've had Covid, works better than the vaccines to date. Why should people, if they had COVID, or they can somehow show they've had exposure, why should they have to also get the vaccination?
Gostin: I think they should. On the science, I think there's a very strong scientific consensus that people who had gotten COVID should get vaccinated. They have some protection with natural immunity but it's not as robust as with a vaccine.
There are scientific disputes on many points. The national mandate is coming as top health officials disagree on booster shots and whether kids need to get vaccinated at all, and thousands of vaccinated Americans have ended up in the hospital and even died of Covid.
In Israel, health officials recently said those who got their shots more than 6 months ago aren’t considered vaccinated anymore.
Yet millions of people in the U.S. vaccinated 9 months ago will be considered protected under the federal mandate here.
Sen. Johnson: There's no logical rationale for the mandate. We know that vaccinated individuals can get infected, they can transmit the disease. So what benefit are we getting from segregating our society, vaccinated versus unvaccinated?
As the fight continues, undisputed winners in the whole mess are the vaccine makers. Even before the national mandate, Moderna was expected to pull in $19 billion in taxpayer money for selling Covid-19 shots this year. Pfizer: $26 billion.
Sharyl: How do you think it plays out?
Sen. Johnson: I believe the challenges to federal mandates will succeed, but probably too late, it'll probably be too late. The damage will already been done.
Rep. Massie: Ultimately, I have hope that the Supreme Court is going to find this illegal like they did with CDCs eviction moratorium. But in the meantime, Joe Biden is going to be able to bluff many corporations. He's targeting 100 million Americans, those are their numbers. He may, without ever promulgating this rule, effectively get 50 or 80 million of them to comply.
Gostin: I know a lot of people feel strongly about them having the freedom to make their own choice and they want to be left alone and make their own choice. But the truth is that we're all interconnected, and we have to think about the common good. This vaccine is really safe and really effective. And eventually it is going to just be well accepted by the American society.
Sharyl (on-camera): We asked more than a dozen Democrat leaders in Congress for interviews, but none would agree. All declined to answer whether they support federal vaccine mandates or any exemptions. We also couldn’t get interviews with CDC, NIH, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is writing the mandate rules.