Consider The Unintended Consequences Of Pandemic Mandates - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Nick Chagnon

Nick Chagnon is a senior lecturer in the Sociology Department and Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UH Manoa. His research specialties include media, police violence, and gender violence.

Laura Rouse

Laura Rouse is a current doctoral student with the University of Hawaii Manoa Department of Sociology and graduate of their bachelor of arts program. Her research focus is on feminist criminology, restorative justice, and institutional abuse within the troubled teen industry.


“We have been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” said President Joe Biden while addressing the nation on Sept. 9.

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His comments regarded those who refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccine. It has become, if not a mantra, at least a defining narrative for those eager to get everyone vaccinated and move on from the epidemic.

The Biden administration has backed this up with action, implementing mandates that require vaccinations for all those working for employers with 100 or more employees, all federal workers and contractors, and all health workers whose employers get funds from Medicare or Medicaid.

We think vaccines are great. Both of us are vaccinated and we trust the science behind vaccines. We trust our colleagues in the medical field doing the life-saving work of vaccination development and patient care. We are not against mandates, either.

And, we acknowledge the arrogance, hostility, and selfishness shown by those who have resisted public health measures throughout this pandemic. Our patience is wearing thin too.

But we should think carefully about what’s happening around us. As scholars of deviance and social control, we have concerns about sweeping state action and the cultural currents we’re observing.

Supporters from KOA and the Aloha Freedom Coalition hold signs during a press conference held at Honolulu Hale.
It is understandable that there are concerns about sweeping state action like vaccination mandates. But the science on Covid should be trusted. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

As criminologists, we are painfully aware that even well-intended actions by government, particularly when they are broad and sweeping, often come with repressive and violent consequences.

Perhaps the most glaring example is the incarceration binge that happened following surging concerns over crime in the 1980s. Mass incarceration is now a widely recognized issue, 40 years too late.

Millions of families (particularly Black ones) have been destroyed by the actions of politicians who were, at times, desperate to curb soaring criminal violence, and at others, cynical and opportunistic, looking to build a career by looking tough on crime. Their patience wore thin too.

‘Unintended Consequences’

If efforts to address a crisis of criminal violence can lead to a leviathan like our system of mass incarceration, we must consider that efforts to address a public health crisis could lead to similarly problematic outcomes. They may not, but unintended consequences are more likely if we exhibit facile acceptance in our haste to move on from the pandemic.

Concomitantly, there is also an alienating and stupefying undercurrent building in our society over this controversy. We are increasingly talking about vaccine refusers in sweeping and stigmatizing terms much like people talked in the 1980 and 90s talk about criminal offenders (and still do).

For instance, Juliette Kayyem, writing in The Atlantic, implied these people are children, saying, “the adults running major institutions in our society want to move forward, and they are done waiting around for vaccine refusers to change their mind.” Paul Krugman, similarly, wrote about the “quiet rage of the responsible” in The New York Times.

The implications of this simplistic paternalism are vast. It implies an alleviation of responsibility for those who are vaccinated. Though vaccination drastically reduces one’s chances of contracting Covid-19 and, even in the few breakthrough cases, promises an even lower rate of hospitalization and death, it is still possible for people with vaccines to spread the disease.

We should consider that government responses to crises spring from urgency, desperation even.

We cannot simply “move on” post-vaccination as some would prefer. The disease remains deadly, and public health measures remain necessary.

This thinking also homogenizes the unvaccinated. There are many reasons why one may not be vaccinated, and painting with a broad brush ultimately erases those who are unvaccinated for reasons other than ignorance or arrogance. Erasure leads to marginalization.

The takeaway here then is not simply “beware of government power.” But we should consider that government responses to crises spring from urgency, desperation even. Such conditions can lead to myopia and present opportunities for the power-hungry.

Crises like the pandemic, then, are not times for facile endorsement of power and repression of dissent. We are better served to communicate in ways that acknowledge nuance, as well as the inevitable blind spots we all have in our views on this debate.

We are not doctrinaire libertarians, and we do not reject the use of government power to solve crises. Clearly, much of what the Biden administration has done is necessary and effective.

But even in those cases, we should be mindful of the implications of broad, sweeping action. The lessons of history are clear. We must heed them.

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About the Authors

Nick Chagnon

Nick Chagnon is a senior lecturer in the Sociology Department and Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at UH Manoa. His research specialties include media, police violence, and gender violence.

Laura Rouse

Laura Rouse is a current doctoral student with the University of Hawaii Manoa Department of Sociology and graduate of their bachelor of arts program. Her research focus is on feminist criminology, restorative justice, and institutional abuse within the troubled teen industry.


Latest Comments (0)

"As scholars of deviance and social control, we have concerns about sweeping state action and the cultural currents we’re observing.""As criminologists, we are painfully aware that even well-intended actions by government, particularly when they are broad and sweeping, often come with repressive and violent consequences."Please tell us. is requiring vaccination against infectious diseases such as polio, smallpox, diphtheria, mumps, measles and chickenpox to be considered deviant, criminal or both?Also, how is this inoculation campaign different than those that have been undertaken for decades? Mahalo 

Peter_Bishop · 1 month ago

The best course of action from the very start was to be fully transparent and to encourage a free, robust, unconstrained and nuanced public discourse of all available data, studies, trials, etc., pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we chose to push a rigid, single-minded, one-size-fits-all narrative that ignores the complex nature of our diverse society, brushes aside the complexities and nuances of medical science, and fails to recognize newly emerging science and data in a timely manner. It is not too late to prevent the impending trainwreck; however, the time is rapidly running out.

Chiquita · 1 month ago

Good points made.  One lesson from this pandemic is that top public health officials may know a lot about epidemiology, but they need better training in communications.  I almost want to call the CDC and NIAID, the "mixed message agencies."The pandemic also gave us all a real time lesson in constitutional law basics.  We learned that our rights aren't absolute and that courts will use the "balancing test" to weigh individual rights against the governmental interest.  But in that balancing, the means is a key part of the analysis.  Even if I concede the need for a vaccine mandate in some situations, there is still a question as to what the appropriate sanction for noncompliance can be.  A $500 fine is one thing, losing your job is another thing, being taken out back and shot is yet another thing.  Let the punishment fit the crime; proportionality.  And, again, messaging.

Fallback25 · 1 month ago

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