“It’s my right not to be vaccinated. It’s my body.”
So goes the argument for the COVID anti-vaxxers, emphasizing personal freedom taking precedence over everything else. Unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly, we health care providers do not have that same freedom; our profession requires us to perform our duties despite the risks to us. We place ourselves in jeopardy each day we come to work, and we cannot simply refuse care for certain patients, even if it serves the same argument of exercising our “right” to do or not do certain things. That goes against our creed, against everything we swore to uphold when we decided to devote our lives to this calling. We do this to serve the greater good.
COVID only increases the burden of an already demanding profession, which is often physically and emotionally grueling even under more “normal” (non-COVID) conditions. It’s getting to be an old, frustrating story: COVID-19 is straining our health care system, needlessly sapping up resources and diverting attention from other serious illnesses. Those who are vaccinated — patients and providers alike — still suffer the consequences of the unvaccinated.
Many other surgeons and I have had to delay surgeries for non-COVID patients, patients who desperately need surgery, particularly those who require ICU care postop, since the ICU is often completely full. Beds are occupied with COVID patients, the majority unvaccinated. Our hospitals are overfilled, the larger medical centers cannot receive transfers from smaller ones due to the saturation. We continue to be overwhelmed. It’s so sad and so preventable. We could’ve avoided this mess when the vaccines first became available.
So here’s my plea to those who still choose to go unvaccinated:
Step back and look at the bigger picture. Like us, see yourself as part of something much larger than yourself, as a responsible citizen and a vital member of the human race. Take a very small and simple step of good action for the benefit of humanity as a whole. History shows us that vaccines have eradicated some of the most devastating global diseases with little to no risk to the recipient.
You might have forgotten this, but personal freedom does not exist in a vacuum. Whatever you do or don’t do has consequences for someone else. With every “right” comes responsibility. Our personal freedoms are only guaranteed when we keep our fellow citizens in mind, by being a contributing and responsible member of society and safeguarding the rights of our fellow citizens. This requires active participation, without which the concept of freedom does not exist. Refusing vaccination imposes risks to everyone else, particularly the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Young children are also getting ill. Your decision to go unvaccinated has far-reaching consequences; it infringes upon the rights of someone else — the right to exist without being needlessly endangered and the ability to access health care in time of need.
Understandably, many are fearful of the vaccine’s risks. But every beneficial act, every worthy endeavor comes with risk. Risk is everywhere; it comes with every single thing we do; its absence does not exist in the natural world. It has been shown the risks of COVID-19 vaccination are extremely low; the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh any potential risks. The nearly 4 billion of the world’s vaccinated bear this truth. Your risk of driving and dying in a fatal accident is much greater than the risks of the vaccines, yet many of us willing to get into a car giving little thought to the risk. We all must make small sacrifices for the common good, but the rewards society bestows upon us far exceeds these minor inconveniences.
So instead of being part of the problem, please be a part of the solution. Get vaccinated — if not for yourself, then for your loved ones, the rest of us, especially those in health care on the front lines in the exhausting war against disease and death.
Randall S. Fong is an otolaryngologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Randall S. Fong, as well as his blog.
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