Where does individual liberty end and personal responsibility to our fellow humans begin?
In the United States, we are “endowed” with certain rights, and these freedoms are part of America’s proud tradition. And that stubborn American spirit of independence is still alive and showing itself in the current Covid pandemic. We are in the 20th month of the Covid battle that has killed well over half a million Americans.
So now we have the vaccine — three of them no less. And we have both sides politically endorsing the vaccine as well as the NIH and the CDC and all medical groups. And yet nearly 40% of eligible Americans are not fully vaccinated. But this is America “land of the free and brave,” and that is their “right” to choose.
Well let me ask you, is it my right to drive without car insurance? To drive on the freeway in the wrong direction dodging cars just for fun? To get drunk and start hitting people? Of course not. You see, my freedom ends where your nose begins. So even as Americans have individual liberty, do we not have a responsibility to our fellow citizen we are coming in contact with? This is not simply about individual liberty and choice, it is about fighting a war against a common enemy named Covid-19 and we need “all hands on deck.”
That brings me back to the vaccine. Why have so many refused? Do they not know that they are putting others’ lives at risk by refusing the vaccine? Could it be that they know, and don’t care? Could it be that they believe they personally are not at high risk, so why should they take the vaccine to help stop the spread to others that are at high risk? Could it be that they want others to be the guinea pigs, and personally profit from herd immunity?
As a retired family physician, I am very much in favor of the vaccine. My wife and I have both taken it and urged family and friends to do so as well. Unfortunately, our efforts have not always been successful. So I was interested to find out why so many people have refused. One of the main reasons is rumors and lies propagated on the internet and social media. There are tons of sites that are filled with misconceptions and conspiracy theories. I have talked to many who say we simply don’t know what the “long term” effects are. When I ask what they mean by “long term,” sometimes the answer is five years, sometimes 10 years. And I also have heard that the medical spokesmen keep changing their story and advice. The bottom line is there is a lack of trust in the medical recommendations.
Thankfully, Americans were not as mistrusting during the polio epidemic in the 1950s. Of course, we didn’t have social media or the internet, so when the polio vaccine came out people embraced it. Think of how many Americans would have died or been permanently crippled from polio if we had so many Americans worried about long term side effects of the vaccine.
Those who have refused the vaccine have been called “vaccine hesitant.” Exactly how many years will we refer to them as “hesitant?” How many lives will be lost in the interim?
Perhaps a better term is anti-vaxxer. After all, they claim that the fact that Pfizer is recommending a booster means that the vaccines are not effective long term. They claim that because we are getting breakthrough cases in patients already vaccinated that they are not effective in preventing disease. The fact is that breakthrough cases are around 1% but rising quickly because of the delta variant. And the truth of the matter is that vaccines overall reduce the chance of severe illness and hospitalization and death by 10 times.
We also know from the flu virus that viruses mutate and become stronger and more contagious, and resistant over time. So the longer it takes us to reach herd immunity the more resistant this virus becomes.
Now the delta variant accounts for almost all the Covid infections. And we know that over 95% of the deaths from Covid are in unvaccinated people. Unvaccinated people that, on average, spread it to seven more people. Viruses are like parasites, they require a host to survive.
So what if every eligible American had been vaccinated? Could it be that we could have defeated Covid and eliminated it from the population? It happened with polio. If not eliminated, its incidence would certainly be less than it currently is.
I will get my booster shot when my time comes, and those who haven’t gotten the first shot will still choose to abstain. As a medical doctor, I want to be involved in the fight against Covid. I feel a duty not just for myself, but for other fellow Americans as well, to do my part in this war that has killed over 600,000 Americans.
Now we are dealing with mask mandates for schools and some restaurants and sporting events. Isn’t it ironic that many times the ones who scream loudest about infringement on their liberties are the anti-vaxxers that are the major reason this pandemic drags on.
I truly believe these mandates would not be coming if Americans had fully embraced vaccinations. And I hold up the United Kingdom as evidence of this. It is well known that the rate of Covid cases is falling in the U.K. and mask mandates and proof of vaccinations requirements are being dropped. Why? Because the U.K. has an overall vaccination compliance rate of 90%. Could we, too, be seeing rates of Covid infections and deaths falling and mandates dropped and kids going back to school without masks if we were at 90%? Certainly.
As for me, I want to be a part of the solution to this pandemic. I, like so many Americans, want to be a soldier in this battle against this killer virus. We are willing to take a vaccine that has been given over 360 million times. And there are also those who choose sit on the sidelines and and be critical. After all, this is America, and they are “free” to do so.
David Lawson, MD, specialized in family medicine and urgent care, which he practiced in the Dallas-Forth Worth area for 37 years. He is retired and lives part time in Texas and part time at Lake Junaluska.