A vice president with the Christian Medical & Dental Associations said Wednesday he opposes the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, even though he supports the vaccine itself and recommends people get it.
"I think it's very difficult to make a good ethical argument for the mandate that President Biden has announced," said Jeffrey Barrows, senior vice president of bioethics and public policy for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA).
Barrows made the remarks during a Family Research Council "Pray Vote Stand" special that discussed the mandate.
Under the Biden administration policy, federal workers must be vaccinated. Additionally, private employers with 100 or more employees must require their workers to get vaccinated or be tested weekly against COVID-19.
CMDA represents 19,000 members.
Barrows said he was speaking only for himself and the CMDA CEO, although he noted that CMDA this year released a statement opposing vaccine mandates.
"Anytime you are using a mandate, you are taking away the ability of the patient to give consent," Barrows said. "... In terms of justifying it, you have to have a clear and obvious good that is achieved that outweighs the removal of patient consent."
Barrows said he could support, for example, a hospital requiring medical personnel who are "dealing with immunocompromised patients" to be vaccinated.
"At the same time, that hospital can also create alternatives that if one of the health care workers has an objection to the vaccine, they can be transferred to a different part of the hospital that is not dealing with high-risk patients," he said. "So in those very narrow settings, you can make an ethical argument for mandates. But when we're dealing with the very broad mandate, such as what President Biden announced … that's an entirely different scenario."
The CMDA statement this year said: "Coerced vaccination would irreparably harm Constitutional rights and the patient-physician relationship. Conscience is an individual belief influenced by many factors such as faith, culture, family, and reason. Each individual makes a conscientious decision in any given situation. Respect for conscience rights is always of primary importance."
Still, Barrows said he supports the vaccine. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said he does, too. State-level data shows the vaccine works. In Mississippi, 87 percent of COVID hospitalizations and 87 percent of COVID deaths in August were among the unvaccinated, according to the state's department of health. Arkansas has had similar numbers, with 84 percent of active cases of COVID occurring in the unvaccinated, state data shows.
"In terms of the safety and the efficacy, as the evidence continues to roll out, we're seeing that while there have been a few complications, ... overall, the safety has been established," Barrows said. "And again, compared to the risk of getting COVID-19 itself – [it] definitely is our recommendation that patients consider getting these vaccines."
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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Sittithat Tangwitthayaphum
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.