Friday 7 January 2022

Dear Antivaxxers: What about my rights?

Over and over again, I’ve heard you rally against vaccines. This is a violation of your individual freedom, and you should be the one making your own medical decisions. Vaccine mandates are out of the question.

Fine. But what about my rights? How come you keep talking about your rights but don’t bother about the rights of anybody else?

Confused? Let me explain.

Today, if we go to a restaurant, a smoker is not allowed to smoke. Nobody’s stopping them from smoking, but the rule is, they must smoke outside; they are not allowed to smoke in the restaurant. I have the right to breath smoke-free air. The smoker has the right to choose to smoke, but I have the right to choose not to smoke.

You will note that I’m not discussing the science. While I believe science conclusively proves the causal link between smoking and lung cancer, emphysema, and other ailments, including the shortening of one’s life, the smoker has the right to do what they want with their own body. However, they can’t force me to smoke, and that includes second-hand smoke. They have the right to jeopardize their life, but they have the responsibility to not jeopardize mine. They are free to do what they want but they are not free to harm me in the process.

Now, swap out smoking for vaccines. The smoker chooses to not believe the science or ignore it. You, the antivaxxer, choose not to believe the science or ignore it. Let me repeat the ground rules.

You have the right to jeopardize your life, but you have the responsibility to not jeopardize mine.

You are free to do what you want but you are not free to harm me in the process.

You go to the store and get angry about you having to wear a mask. Change the mask for a cigarette. Are you allowed to light up in a store? The rules say no.

You go to the store and get angry there’s a vaccine mandate. Change the mandate for a cigarette.

It’s at this point I can hear you screaming, “That’s not fair!”

Let’s return to smoking. You, the smoker, choose to not believe the science. The consensus of opinion in our society is that the science is real. Collectively, we’ve implemented rules based on that science. You are free to smoke but you’re not allowed to smoke in public places. You are free to do what you want but you are not free to harm me in the process.

An organization enacts mandatory vaccines. Screaming? I can now see steam coming out of your ears as you go ballistic. Back to smoking. The organization says that employees are not allowed to smoke at their desk. In fact, they’re not allowed to smoke in the offices. At all. Fair? An infringement of your freedom? You choose to ignore the science. I do not. The organization does not. Collectively, we choose to follow the science.

It’s at this point, an antivaxxer hauls out stats from the latest newspaper article making the rounds. Are you an epidemiologist, a specialist in infectious diseases? Are you a medical doctor? Are you in any way connected to the scientific community involved in medical research? I assume the answer is no, at which point I have to ask why you would think I would pay you the slightest bit of attention as opposed to, let’s say, Dr. Fauci of the United States, a career epidemiologist of 40 years who has advised seven American presidents?

You are free to believe that two plus two equals five. You can believe the earth is flat if you want. And you can smoke. But if you’ll excuse me, I’m going with the consensus of scientific research. I have an understanding of respiratory droplets, the airborne transmission of infectious diseases, viruses and vaccinations, and I choose to go with the science, not ignore it.

Look around you. Why do you not see measles? Is the disease gone? Has it been eradicated? The truth is that over 90% of the population has been inoculated against the disease. We’ve reached herd immunity, and the disease can no longer freely roam through the populace. The same for polio, mumps, rubella, etc. Vaccinations are very much a part of our public health. But, out of sight, out of mind. How quickly we forget.

In January 2018, a colleague at my company called me over to ask for my help. I stood at the door of her office, taking in her red nose, weeping eyes, and cough. When I asked her why she wasn’t at home, she told me she had too much work to do so like brave soldier, she came in to get her work done. I said thanks for coming in to infect all of us.

Shortly thereafter, I got sick with the flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for 48 hours and needed two weeks before I was recovered enough to go back to work. There is no doubt my colleague got me sick. If I was still at work (I’m now retired), today, I would go to management and the board and ask for, no, demand a company policy forcing sick people to stay at home. A brief Google search turns up that the lost productivity due to sickness adds up to tens of billions of dollars annually. Ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away.

Final Word
I spent most of my life living with a family of smokers. Even though I’m a non-smoker, I’ve inhaled a fair share of second-hand smoke. I’ve thought it would be rich if I ended up being the one with lung cancer.

I didn’t think I’d live to see it, but somewhere around the year 2000, the public attitude changed, and communities issued new rules, barring smokers from public venues. — Old joke: A restaurant with a smoking section is like a swimming pool with a peeing section. — At last, I could have a smoke-free meal. Nobody stopped anybody from smoking; the rules just said you couldn’t smoke in front of somebody else. Voilà! We both get a good meal. You get to smoke, and I get to not smoke.

Vaccinations lead to a different issue. You can’t show up at a restaurant and magically be vaccinated, and then go home and magically be unvaccinated. Nobody is stopping you from not getting vaccinated, but the rules state you are not allowed to frequent such an establishment.

You are free to do what you want but there are consequences to your actions. You can’t do whatever the heck you want and expect to “get away with it”. You have to be a responsible adult.

Vaccines work. But I don’t just choose to believe the science, I try to understand the science, while recognising I’m not a scientist. In the end, I defer to the experts. You are free to believe what you want but remember that we all have to follow the rules.

Do what you want but be a responsible adult and deal with the consequences of your actions. It’s not just about your rights but also about your responsibilities. Jeopardize your life but don’t jeopardize mine.


Photo from Wikipedia COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the United States. Photo by Paul Becker, Aug 15, 2021

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Jennifer Anne Reich is an American sociologist, researcher and author at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research interests include healthcare, adolescence, welfare, and policy. Her work on vaccine hesitancy gained widespread attention during the 2019 measles outbreaks. She is the author of three books and numerous journal articles.

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