The wisdom of President Biden’s push to encourage/demand vaccinations for Americans will be debated in the media for weeks, but they likely will miss the point. Instead of confronting the real threat to the health and well-being of the nation, they will focus on the zero-sum nature of the politics rather than the critical need for firm action. I, for one, think the President has seized a historical moment and implemented a policy he believes necessary despite the political risks. A decision which future historians will see as both necessary and courageous.
Such courage and commitment are refreshing. Something that has been sorely lacking in both the office of the Presidency and the halls of Congress, on both sides of the aisle.
Why have we reached this point? Selfishness and lack of empathetic reciprocity.
With the recent 20th anniversary of 9/11, we are reminded of how we came together as a nation to confront the crisis. Yet, on further analysis, it was just 1% of the population and their families who bore the burden for the rest of us. Even then-President Bush told Americans to go shopping. We were a nation at war, but it was something we watched on TV. No one was planting victory gardens or saving cans for the war effort.
And so the situation in which we find ourselves in the pandemic crisis should come as no surprise.
When the burden of facing the issue affects all Americans, suddenly, it is too much to ask for a significant number of us. It is easy to wave flags, sing God Bless America, and send someone else’s son or daughter off to war. Then crack open a beer and toast the video of some JDAM bomb explosion in a cave in a country many couldn’t find on a map. But it is entirely different when we face the outrageous demand to get vaccinated and wear a mask.
How dare the government take away my rights to be selfish.
The country faces a crisis. In many ways, it is a crisis of our own making. For years, we have reduced the emphasis on basic science literacy at the expense of our overall well-being. By releasing into society high school graduates with minimal understanding of science and the efficacy of standard medical treatments such as vaccines and the method in which communicable diseases spread, we’ve sown the seeds of our own demise.
When one has little fundamental understanding of science, one is vulnerable to the myths and agenda-driven nonsense such as the anti-vax movement.
When you combine scientific ignorance with the widespread selfishness permeating society in the guise of demand for rights, we would inevitably be the vehicle of our own demise. Then you have those who abuse the necessary, but rare, exemptions such as medical conditions and religious objections, and we have a recipe for disaster.
In a recent hearing on a bill to remove Massachusetts’ religious exemption, a witness said that she used the religious exemption,
“Not because it goes against my religion, but because I do not believe that it is necessary to put additional chemicals into my child’s body for an illness that she would fully recover from. You are proposing to take away my right as a parent, and for what? To protect other people?” https://www.wgbh.org/news/politics/2021/07/12/standardizing-mass-school-vaccine-rules-triggers-vocal-opposition
None of the major religions have doctrinal objections to vaccinations. Almost all acknowledge the benefit to society of such medical practices. Yet, the abuse continues, placing society at risk.
If a religious organization demanded the separation of students in public education by sex, no one would take such a demand seriously. So why would we allow objections which place others at risk?
If you choose not to be vaccinated, you accept that you may be banned from public transportation, gatherings, or any other place where the public gathers. Although you may have the right to place yourself and your family at risk, you do not have the right to do that to others.
There is a well-articulated study of the abuse of religious exemptions well worth the read.
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God in Vain: Use and Abuse of Religious Exemptions from School Immunization Requirements, 65 Hastings L.J. 1551 (2014).
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol65/iss6/5
What can we do about false claims of religious objections? Not much. But it reflects the increasingly selfish nature of many in our society where rights trump responsibilities, and what may hurt others doesn’t matter as long as an individual’s claim to a right to create the risk is preserved.
During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US suffered 7,036 killed in action. In World War II, the US suffered 407,300 killed in action with the same number of families paying the ultimate price.
So far, Covid has killed 677,988 Americans. 677,988 dead from a condition we can now control and prevent with a high degree of success. Almost as many Amerians have died from Covid as have died in all the wars we fought for our freedoms. Somehow, I don’t think all those who died in battle did so so Americans could commit suicide. What we have in this country is a collection of UN-Conscientious Objectors refusing to join the battle.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the level of selfishness overrunning society and the descent into willful ignorance. Thus, while we have a reasonable expectation of being free from the onerous demands of the government, that expectation must be measured against the overall risk to society.
It’s time we come together once again to face this burden, not shirk it out of selfishness.
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