Americans love their individual rights, but there can be no safety and prosperity unless everyone pulls together for the common good when we are under attack. Right now, we are in a life-or-death battle with a wily virus that is determined to win the war. Its goal: to kill as many as possible. Those refusing vaccination—with the exception of those whose health precludes it—are recklessly aiding and abetting the virus. They need to be held responsible to the public good.
Let’s All Be Clear on the Science
If you have not yet read Code Breaker, the biography of the gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna by Walter Isaacson, I strongly recommend it for one reason alone. This is the best explanation I have read so far of the battlefield. Here is my much-simplified explanation: bacteria have been fighting off viruses for billions of years. This is a back-and-forth relationship. Bacteria get attacked by a virus, they adjust themselves to avoid future attack. The virus is clever, though; it mutates and tries again, the bacteria builds more defenses, and so it goes. Our bodies do the same thing against viruses.
A vaccine prompts our bodies to be ready for the marauding disease when it shows up. The COVID-19 vaccine is based on the science that Doudna spearheaded, and it has been extremely successful in fighting the version of the virus that dominated; it is also effective against the currently dominant strain, the delta variant, although it now appears that vaccinated people can in fact get it and transmit it. In other words, this virus has not given up. In fact, it may just be getting started.
This virus won’t give up just because someone has a moral or religious objection, or someone is experiencing “vaccine hesitancy.” Indeed, it thrives from slow and incomplete vaccination.
Not enough people have been vaccinated in the United States to effectively stop the virus from trying more and more tricks to get around our defenses. The only answer at this point is for the government at every level to mandate vaccination, except for those whose health would be threatened.
The bottom line: the unvaccinated are giving the COVID-19 virus time to develop more ways to get around our defenses. It’s possible that the vaccination success so far will become a distant memory if mandates are not put in place, and those who refuse vaccination are not penalized.
This is a war of life and death.
There Is No Constitutional Right to Avoid Vaccination Against a Deadly Disease in the Midst of a Pandemic
Many Americans love to talk about their constitutional rights as though they are absolute, but there is no absolute right other than the right to believe whatever one chooses. You can believe vaccines are the work of the devil and you can believe that they are the product of the evil pharma complex. But you have no right to do whatever you want if you will be complicit in others dying. The Supreme Court made that clear in Jacobson v. Massachusetts over a century ago and has never veered away from it.
The common good demands that everyone be vaccinated as soon as possible if we are going to have any chance of beating this virus. It is mutating right now around the world and looking for workarounds for the vaccines that are currently protecting millions. In other words, the minority of refusers is now carrying the burden of responsibility for the health of all.
We have given the voluntary vaccination approach plenty of time. Some elected officials are offering incentives like lotteries or even payment. Yet, these efforts are not sufficient to save our lives or the economy fast enough. The government must operate based on the science and the truth, and no longer can politicians coddle those who have fallen for conspiracy lies and rank stupidity. It is their obligation to protect the lives of as many Americans as possible, and mass vaccination is the only pathway, period.
Local, state, and federal governments need to mandate vaccination, and that includes in the workplace. Enforcement may not be easy, but the workplace is a good place to start, as President Joe Biden is doing with federal employees. Employers should be required to check vaccination status and to accommodate only those with a valid health justification from their doctor.
We Need to Treat COVID-19 Vaccine Avoiders Like We Treat Drunk Drivers
For those who evade such mandates, the penalties need to be criminal and civil, and they need to be significant. We don’t permit persons to recklessly endanger others by driving drunk. Why? Because driving drunk can kill others. Not every single drunk driver kills someone, and not every unvaccinated person will infect others, but in both cases, the risk is too high for society to permit the conduct. If a drunk driver kills someone, they can be prosecuted and sued by those who lost a loved one. Why not treat the unvaccinated the same, because they are imposing an unjustifiable risk on others? Moreover, the drunk driver isn’t the only person who can be sued for the deaths of others; the bar that gave them too many drinks and then let them leave the bar to drive also bears responsibility. For that reason, any conspiracy site, member of the clergy, or politician actively dissuading Americans from vaccination should understand their own culpability in the deaths of Americans from an avoidable danger. Such lies are an example of deliberate indifference to the well-being of the public. They have a First Amendment right to speak, but it’s not unlimited. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, and you shouldn’t be permitted to incite persons to avoid the one weapon we have against this deadly virus.
Those who are recklessly choosing to go out in public without vaccination—and those encouraging them—are providing a host for the virus to further mutate and for that mutation to spread, and eventually outsmart the vaccines. It’s time for our elected leaders to bring on the mandates for the sake of the common good.