Personal Choice and Societal Ethics

LRRR!
LRRR, ruler of Omicron Persei 8

TL;DR: If you are able to get the COVID-19 vaccine and do not do so, then you are responsible for the consequences.

Now, before I get into this, may I remind you I have a degree in Philosophy and I’m not afraid to use it? Because I do, and my sense of ethics, particularly in relation to societal terms, was heavily influenced by some pretty heavy-duty thinkers, including Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and, to a lesser extent, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Practically, I’m a utilitarian by nature, but I find the hedonistic aspects of the Good as defined by Mill and Bentham a bit tricky. I like Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and while I find Rawls a little too optimistic about human nature, I still like his notions of justice as fairness.

So, having said all that to establish (to some extent) my philosophical bona-fides, let’s go.

I’ve been concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning, when I first heard about a new SARS-related disease spreading rapidly through the Wuhan district in China. Given the international connectiveness of the world, it was only a matter of time before it reached the States, starting with New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles, the big port cities. The first community contracted case was, I believe, seen in UC Davis Medical Center here in Sacramento. To be perfectly honest, I was less concerned about it until then-President Donald Trump announced that he had it under control; at which point, I knew we were screwed.

Politics aside, I figured we’d see the pandemic and vanquish it fairly quickly; within a couple of months at most. I figured we’d find a vaccine and people would rally around it and we’d all be better and this thing would go away soon. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The vaccine didn’t come into nearly a year into the pandemic, and the newest (at this time) variant of the SARS-COV2 virus, the Omicron variant, is blazing through our population like wildfire. All told, we have nearly one million people dead in the United States, millions more are sick, our hospitals are overrun, and the health care system is on the brink of collapse.

It didn’t have to be this way.

The pandemic and its mitigation measurements have become politicized, which is a shame. Conspiracy theories surround the vaccine, and notions of mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccine mandates have been decried as socialism and tyranny by certain parties (never mind that said parties probably don’t actually know what socialism is). There is one refrain that bothers me the most, and that is that getting the vaccine and wearing masks are individual choices not to be imposed by the state.

I have Thoughts about that.

Vaccine mandates do work. People who get the vaccine are less likely to come down sick with COVID-19, and if they do catch it, they are less likely to require hospitalization, and far less likely to die from it. They are also less likely to spread the disease to other people. And where vaccine mandates are in place, more people definitely get it. Sure, some people resist the mandate, but employers (such as hospitals — and it blows me away that there are health care workers who refuse the vaccine — and government services such as police departments) report that less then 1% of their employees quit over the mandates.

“But it’s all about personal freedoms and individual choice!” say the ones who (maybe) recognize the utility of the vaccine but who do not believe in vaccine mandates.

And they’re right. Whether or not to get the vaccine is a personal choice. But it’s one with societal consequences. As I said above, getting the vaccine significantly reduces the probability that you will spread COVID-19 if you catch it. which is a good thing. If you’re unvaccinated and contract the disease, then you have a much higher chance of spreading it, even if your symptoms are mild or simply nonexistent. If you do exercise your personal freedom to refuse the vaccine, though, and then you contract the virus and spread it to someone who is unable to get the vaccine because they are too young or are immunocompromised or some other legitimate reason (and I don’t believe in religious accommodations here), then you are responsible for the consequences.

Society has a responsibility, I believe, to protect its most vulnerable members: the elderly, the very young, the injured and sick. This comes right out of my Christian value set. If you are a member of society, then you have the responsibility to partake in that protection. My utilitarian mindset is in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number, and that greatest good means good health.

This is also why I believe governments have the authority, nay, the responsibility, to restrict travel to those have been vaccinated and test negative for the virus. If an athlete from another country tests positive for the virus, or has publicly refused the vaccine, then the government has the responsibility to keep that person out.

“YOU CAN’T FORCE ME TO GET THE VACCINE!” yells the societal libertarian. This is true.

But you should be held responsible for the consequences of not doing so. And if, say, your elderly grandmother, your immunocompromised neighbor, or your child’s playmates, if any of them contract COVID-19 because of your own anti-vaccine position, then you are responsible for the outcome.

If you disagree, feel free to let me know. I’m not likely to change my mind, though. I’ve done my due diligence in informing my opinion and philosophy here, so I believe my conclusions are sound and valid.

2 thoughts on “Personal Choice and Societal Ethics”

  1. Likewise, if not getting vaccinated hurts your career options or ability to go wherever you like, THAT IS ON YOU. You decided that not getting a safe vaccine that could save your life was more important than anything else, then you gotta deal with the shitty consequences.

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