Santa Barbara responds to COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Kylie Dickinson, Staff Writer

President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to increase nationwide inoculation rates. Despite Biden’s initial assurance that he would not require Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine, he has recently issued a new mandate. 

The government will now require all federal workers and their contractors to receive the vaccine. In addition, all employers with 100 or more employees must ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated or produce a negative test at least once per week. 

In a speech on Sept. 9, according to the White House’s official briefing release, Biden announced the plan and revealed his reasoning. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”

Santa Barbara saw one group advocate for its perspective against the mandate on Sept. 18. An organization called Stand Up Santa Barbara hosted a peaceful rally against the vaccine mandate called Santa Barbara Freedom Festival. Stand Up Santa Barbara’s mission is to inform the community and defend constitutional freedoms, according to one of its coordinators, Marisol Gutierrez. The event took place from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at De La Guerra Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara. Over 300 people from the Santa Barbara region attended the event. 

Gutierrez shared some of the organization’s thoughts on the mandate: “We don’t feel heard by our government. It’s … frustrating putting in so much time and energy to be told that they’ve already made up their minds to take all our freedoms and bodily autonomy away. We are passionately against the vaccine mandates and COVID protocol mandates. It is completely against our constitutional rights to be told we have to inject anything into our bodies, period.”

Dr. Jesse Covington, Westmont professor of political science, emphasized that the details of the vaccine mandate are still in the works. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has not yet released a new “Emergency Temporary Standard” (ETS) regarding the implementation of Biden’s new vaccine rule. “Based on what we anticipate,” Covington commented, “calling it a ‘vaccine mandate’ may not be entirely accurate, since it allows a choice between vaccination and weekly testing.”

Covington recognized the different perspectives regarding Biden’s plan, saying, “Yes, of course, it will be controversial. On the one hand, those who see this as an important workplace safety measure will welcome it — particularly businesses that have already adopted similar rules. On the other hand, those who see this as a significant extension of federal power to regulate healthcare decision-making in the private sector will continue denouncing it as government overreach.” 

Gutierrez falls within the group denouncing the mandate. “If the COVID-19 shot was really about our health,” she commented, “they wouldn’t be mandating it for everyone. We don’t care if people wanna get a vaccine — we don’t feel we should be forced or coerced into getting it. We don’t want it to be ‘get a test or get a vaccine.’ It needs to be a choice.” 

With Stand Up SB as a frontrunner, Santa Barbara may see more advocacy surrounding vaccine mandates as Biden’s plan is implemented.

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