At a May rally outside the General Assembly in Raleigh they called it today’s “civil rights issue” on a par with laws protecting Black and LGBTQ people from being denied service at a lunch counter or a cake shop. What is this new invidious form of discrimination that rallygoers demand to be protected against? Vaccines. The greatest health advance known to humankind has become their hill to die on.
With “die” being the operative word.
As a North Carolinian and one of 10 million immunocompromised people who are particularly at risk during this COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to counter-protest in person, so I took my message to the skies with an aerial banner: “WANT TO FEEL FREE? GET A VACCINE! #ScienceSaves”.
To be frank, I never thought I’d be in this position of asking, pleading with my neighbors to care about me and others. They seem blind to or simply disinterested in the human toll that is guaranteed to come if their activism succeeds and we don’t reach herd immunity due to vaccine hesitancy.
Their rally was in support of HB 558, a bill that would prohibit requiring proof of vaccination or immunity in public accommodations, employment, or to attend any school, public or private. Never mind COVID-19, this bill would apply to any illness, meaning unvaccinated children susceptible to the measles and other deadly childhood diseases could attend public school.
This is a warped understanding of liberty. Your freedom to drive a car does not include the right to ignore stop signs. People who speed through stop signs risk not only their personal safety but that of the rest of us. And so is it with people who reject vaccines during a pandemic. Reasonable safety regulations are essential right now. If we do not have 70 percent of the population with immunity, the virus will continue to spread and potentially mutate into new and possibly vaccine-resistant variants.
There are 593,000 dead Americans so far. How many more have to die for “freedom”?
And freedom comes in many forms. Getting vaccinated means freedom from the likelihood of catching the virus and freedom from the fear and anxiety of spreading it to loved ones. People cry in relief when they get vaccinated.
Anti-vaxxers are terrified, but they are afraid of the wrong thing. Vaccines have side-effects, but they are vastly safer than COVID itself. Being afraid of vaccines rather than the virus is like being afraid of seatbelts rather than car accidents.
People opposed to vaccines claim that to require vaccine passports to travel, shop, or keep a job is discrimination. Wrong. It is a consequence of a choice to put others at risk. Businesses should not be allowed to discriminate, but they should be allowed to enforce consequences, such as barring employees who endanger their fellow workers.
My body does not remember vaccines well. Immunocompromised people, transplant patients, and many cancer patients rely on others to be vaccinated in order to protect them. Government offices, schools, and businesses should be allowed to make themselves safe for people like me (and everyone else) by requiring proof of immunity.
If you choose not to be vaccinated, that is your right. But why should a store clerk, teacher, veterinarian, or restaurant server have to put themselves at risk by being around you? Requiring proof of immunity for service is not discrimination. It is a consequence of you choosing not to help thy neighbor.
Todd Stiefel is chair of the ScienceSaves Campaign Raleigh.