Vaccination: Personal Choice or Societal Necessity?

It’s that time of year — summer vacations are winding down, kids are bored with being at home (especially after a year of lockdowns) and the stores are filled with back to school shoppers. The hope that we were finally going to get past this pandemic and life would return to normal this fall are quickly being dashed.

Just as schools are starting up again the COVID-19 rates are rapidly rising. The debates over masks, vaccines, and social distancing have moved from name calling, to screaming, and in some cases violence. The real threat to us is from the culture war that is tearing the country apart.

Have we lost the ability to link arms and fight a common enemy? In the past the enemies were visible. We can all visualize the results of the bombing of Pearl Harbor or of planes flying into the World Trade Center. We knew the enemy that had attacked us. Attack the enemy, was how we responded.

The world has changed. We cannot always see the enemy. Internet hackers, misinformation campaigns, viruses, all are attacks that can come from outside our country wreaking havoc without the enemy ever setting foot on our soil.

The current enemy is the virus. We have the weapons we need to fight it. We have vaccines. We know so much more about this virus than we did a year ago. We have an understanding of how the virus is transmitted. Why are we facing another major surge of the virus?

The virus does not recognize a person’s political affiliation. The virus does not care about the ethnic background of the person it is infecting. The virus does not care what religion you practice.

We have been here before with epidemics from infectious disease. Measles, mumps, smallpox, whooping cough, diphtheria are just a few of the diseases that we no longer worry about in the 21st Century because of scientific innovations in the 20th Century and mandated vaccinations in childhood.

People thankfully lined up to get themselves and their children vaccinated against polio in the 1950’s. Development of additional vaccines in the 1960’s led to a major reduction in mortality from several diseases and the eradication of smallpox and polio. We are spoiled. Most people cannot remember the last time an easily transmissible infectious disease was a real threat.

Personal choice or societal necessity have been argued on many issues. Societal necessity means that non-smokers have a right to not have their health affected by second hand smoke so personal choice to smoke in most public buildings is banned. Societal necessity means that for the safety of other drivers you do not have the personal choice to drive drunk. Societal necessity meant that Typhoid Mary was incarcerated when her personal choice was to continue working as a cook and transmitting typhoid.

It is easy to say “my body, my choice” if the only person impacted is yourself. In the case of COVID-19 even if you don’t show symptoms, get sick or end up in a hospital you are part of the chain of transmission. The innocent people in all of this are the healthcare workers that put themselves in the line of danger to take care of you if you become sick, the immunocompromised and the children you come into contact with that cannot be vaccinated.

The threat from the delta variant of COVID-19 is real and growing. The number of hospitalization levels due to COVID-19 are rapidly rising. The number of deaths due to COVID-19 are rising. The difference this time is that it is the unvaccinated and younger people filling the hospitals.

All of this is preventable if we are willing to lock arms and fight the common enemy together, as a society.

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Karen Kudla

I am a retired teacher with a passion for equal opportunity through education for all.