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Kathleen Sebelius likens unvaccinated Americans to those who blow 'secondhand smoke' on others: 'That is not acceptable'

Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Kathleen Sebelius — the health and human services secretary under former President Barack Obama — told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that Americans who refuse to receive COVID-19 vaccinations are a lot like those who put others' lives at risk by blowing "secondhand smoke" on them.

What are the details?

Sebelius — who also served as governor of Kansas — had high praise for President Joe Biden's strategy to get more Americans vaccinated.

"I think what President Biden has done is balance between what the science says and trying to cajole, encourage, make it easy for people to follow the science," she told Hayes on Wednesday. "And when that turned out not to be as effective, then he turned to more hardened mandates. But what people don't have a right to do is make other people sick, put other people in jeopardy, risk other people's lives, risk children's lives. And so I think the president has been walking a line of balancing science and safety and security at every step along the way. Hoping that the mass majority of the American public would follow that lead."

'It's a lot like secondhand smoke'

Later in the interview Sebelius brought up the comparison to secondhand smoke:

It's a lot like secondhand smoke. You have a right to be a smoker. The science is very clear what smoking will do to you, what cancer will be caused, what kinds of health conditions. You have a right to be a smoker. What you don't have a right to do is smoke next to my desk, to blow smoke on me, blow smoke on my children, to force me to live in a housing facility where I am subjected to more smoke. That's a line that we finally have in this country that delineates what your individual rights are and what you have a right to do to make me sick and make my kids sick. So I think we're looking at very much the same situation. [The Occupational Safety and Health Administration], you're absolutely right, has always provided guidance and mandates about safety in a workplace, and this is not a safe workplace if I'm working side by side with somebody who refuses to be vaccinated, is not wearing a mask, who will not be tested that can make me sick, make my family sick. And that is not acceptable.

We've seen this movie before

It wasn't the first time Sebelius used secondhand smoke to point a finger at unvaccinated Americans. In July, she reportedly told CNN that the Delta variant's spread should result in restrictions on where the unvaccinated can go in public.

"You can drink, but you can't drive drunk because you can injure other people. You can't smoke inside of a public place where you can give cancer to someone else in spite of their never having been a smoker," Sebelius reportedly said. "Right now, I'm being impinged on by people who say, 'I don't want to get vaccinated.' It's fine. I want them to maybe have a limitation on where they can go and who they can possibly infect."

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