Missouri’s ruling Republicans, who have presided over one of the country’s most dismal records in confronting the coronavirus, are now trying to prevent restaurants, nursing homes and other private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination of patrons as a condition of service. Apparently, a party that once prided itself on protecting the autonomy of private enterprise now cares only about resisting even the most sensible pandemic precautions.
With mass vaccination efforts in full force, the issue that society will soon confront won’t be how many people have been able to get vaccinated but how many have chosen not to. Citizens certainly have the right to refuse — the Biden administration and virtually every leader who matters in either party agrees with that. In a free country, people have the right to make bad decisions for themselves.
But people also have the right to protect themselves from the bad decisions of others. Business owners are within their rights to insist that patrons prove they aren’t a health risk to employees and other customers. Whether that proof is a “vaccine passport” that patrons would display on a cellphone, or some other form of proof, the principle is based on effective disease control throughout modern history.
Most, if not all, Missouri Republicans would claim to still stand for the traditional GOP principle that government shouldn’t micromanage businesses. So how do they reconcile that with the state Senate’s passage earlier this month of a measure barring private transportation companies, including widely used car services like Uber and Lyft, from requiring proof of vaccination from customers? The House followed up last Monday with an even more expansive measure barring businesses of any kind from requiring proof of vaccination.
As they’ve been doing throughout the pandemic, the Republicans spearheading these measures are warping a medical issue with politics — and not just any politics but the extremist, anti-science brand now ascendant on the political right. The bar or sports venue that wants to ensure all its patrons are as safe as possible from the virus isn’t singling out conservatives by insisting that only those who are vaccinated come in. The fact that so many conservatives think medical common sense is a direct affront to their political movement says a lot about their political movement.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson has said he would oppose any move by government to require the use of vaccine passports. President Joe Biden agrees. Parson has also taken the reasonable (and traditionally conservative) position that if private businesses want to impose such a requirement on their own employees and patrons, that’s their right. Parson has been justifiably criticized for his hands-off approach to the pandemic, but this is one instance in which it’s the right approach. He should speak loudly on this issue, and his party should listen.