By Mel Mann
Unless you have been living in a cave for all of 2020 and into 2021 you have heard of this highly contagious virus designated COVID-19. As a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19 has shut down economy’s, changed how we live our lives, and killed far too many. The good news is that we have a fully approved vaccine. The bad news is that a large block of our population does not want to get vaccinated.
Specific to America, COVID-19 is associated with over 38 million infections and 635 thousand deaths.
For those who are unfamiliar with plagues, there have been a couple of devastating ones in recorded human history. The Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire around 540 AD killing and estimated 10 million. In the 14th Century the Bubonic Plague killed an estimated 75 – 100 million. Closer to home, in the 16 century Europeans brought Smallpox and other diseases that devastated Aztec, Inca and native American population who had no immunity. This is just a snapshot, the historical list of plagues and pandemics is quite substantial and there are many scholars who are surprised that humanity has managed to survive. All of these pandemics and plagues have done the most damage in dense population centers because of how contagious they were.
In all fairness, it should be noted that native populations of the America’s in return shared syphilis which swept through Europe.
Humans in general are a pretty fragile species. We can’t run very fast, our skin is thin and does not protect us well from extreme conditions, but we do have sizable brains. Elephants and sperm whales have larger brains, but in proportion to our total body mass we have the largest brains. We have leveraged our brains over time to create various tools, re-route rivers, build great structures…the list goes on and on. One of our greatest inventions is science to inhibit disease through vaccines.
If you have seen any news in the past 2 years you know that COVID-19 has shown itself to be latest virus to attack humanity. The origins of COVID-19 are like finding gophers in your back yard. You would love to yell at your neighbor, but you still need to purge them from your property regardless of how responsible or irresponsible your neighbor was. That means, at this point I am less worried about the origin than stopping the problem. The good news is that there are a variety of vaccines now available, and as of August 2021, the Pfizer/BioNtech version is fully approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for most people 16 and older. This should mean that all governments across the country begin issuing mandates to get vaccinated except for limited health reasons.
I know, it is the age of rage and hate, but why are people protesting against getting vaccinated? The common theme is that there is a “Constitutional right” to choose whether to be vaccinated or not for adults and a right to determine whether children can be vaccinated. That is clearly a non-starter in the midst of a pandemic. It is also not a “Constitutional right”. The Constitution is not a suicide pact guaranteeing a right to harm others. The government has latitude to protect citizens from deadly conditions, especially when there are clear solutions including vaccinations supported by good science.
While our Constitution does guarantee many individual rights, it does not allow for you to knowingly put others at risk. In fact, there is a reasonable expectation that government will create policies that encourage good, and ethical public health and safety. This is why we all drive on the right side of the road and are not allowed to own nuclear weapons.
Even with respect to children, parents do not have carte blanche. Children are “persons” under the Constitution, and as the ruling in Prince v. Massachusetts held, parents do not have a constitutional right to make martyrs of their children. Parents have an obligation to protect their children’s health and life, which means that the school district mandates that reduce the risk of death to other people’s children is completely enforceable.
I know that most people slept through their high school civics class, but when challenged, many like to invoke their rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect speech, religion, and a right not to “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” All of this sounds good on the surface, but none of these rights are absolute. Rights can be limited if a person is endangering another. The classic example is “free speech”; yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre can cause chaos leading to harm or death. This type of speech is not allowed. In a similar way, we all stop when the light turns red rather than arbitrarily plow through the intersection as though we are the only ones who matter. These are examples of giving up absolute freedom for the safety and welfare of others and our community as a whole.
The vaccine issue came up for the first time in the 1905 Supreme Court decision in the case Jacobson v Massachusetts. The court ruled against a man who didn’t want to get a smallpox vaccination stating: “Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own (liberty), whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.” In the language of lawyers and judges that effectively means an individual’s liberty is limited to not doing things that might or will harm or cause loss to others. That same principle was apparent when Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is thought to be a strong rights-advocate, left stand the Indiana University vaccine mandate.
Fundamentally, the government may prohibit otherwise constitutionally protected conduct to save the lives of others. The same reasoning applies to vaccine mandates. We live in a country of ordered liberty, not individual autonomy that paves the way to the deaths of others. In short, it is not the right of every American citizen to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection. In that same spirit, if you don’t want your children vaccinated, you should not expect them to be allowed access to public schools, sports leagues and all the other group activities.
Considering how much people in America like to file law suits, the opposite might actually be true. Government may well be shirking its responsibility to protecting life if it does not mandate and enforce vaccinations.
While none of the vaccines for COVID-19 are considered 100% effective, the science and the worldwide data shows that vaccinations are currently the best protection from this pandemic. The faster we can reach herd immunity, the more likely it will be that people won’t die from this virus, hospitals won’t be overburdened, and the economy will fully recover.
It is unfortunate, but many of those we have elected to high office actually have very little understanding of the laws and the Constitution they have sworn to protect serve. Telling Americans that they have a Constitutional right to refuse vaccination is simply wrong and creates more discord and division. More importantly, this is a license to potentially infect others with a deadly disease when other options are available.
As a species, our one great blessing is our brains. Over the centuries we have accumulated knowledge and leveraged science to create many great things including vaccines. One hundred years ago the average life expectancy was 55-56 years. Now the average life expectancy is over 70 years. Clean water, a regulated food supply and modern medical practices have all contributed to our longer and healthier lives.
I suppose that the problem with an essay like this, is that the audience I would like to sway has either already made up their minds, or will refuse to read this. It is interesting how times have changed. For most of my life we as people were enamored with the value of science and how it can make our lives better. Now there is a large segment of our population, regardless of political affiliation that seems want to adopt a nay type stance regardless of its origin for reasons I find difficult to fathom. I just hope that before the virus mutates into an even more virulent strain, more of us will leverage the results of our greatest minds and get vaccinated.
Mel Mann currently works as a software developer as well as dabbling in playing the blue grass banjo.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal