I am so tired of the freedom argument with it comes to vaccines. So tired. It didn’t really hit me until I learned more about medicine, government, and public health, just how much freedom is taken for granted.
I get it. I don’t like it when people try to tell me what to do with my body. All my life, I feel like I’ve gotten an onslaught of advice or orders as to what to do with my body. Especially if there might someday be a baby within my body. A lot of people don’t like or trust doctors because they worry they will be told what to do, or end up doing something against their will, or end up being hurt. People are sick of it. They’re scared. I get it. Doctors make the worst patients. We also hate going to the doctor.
But here’s the thing. The constitution wasn’t written with anarchy in mind. It was written to give more deciding power to the individual and also the state, with some exceptions. It was carefully thought out with checks and balances. But there are still regulations that are very intentionally meant to protect people. From the amount of water that is in your toilet to the food you eat, to the clothing you wear. It’s all regulated. We take a lot of it for granted, but it’s there, and usually with the intention of protecting you.
You can do whatever you like with your body. Unless it’s hurting someone else. What people forget is that the constitution is also written with personal responsibility in mind. Yes, there is freedom of speech. But if someone yells “fire” in a crowded room, you will likely get in trouble with the law. There is a right to bear arms, but if you shoot someone, you’re gonna get in big trouble. Nothing is absolute.
It may feel much more passive when you are living in a comfortable home, with a loving family, secure in your life, and don’t want to be vaccinated. It feels like a personal decision. It’s not as dramatic as pulling a trigger. It doesn’t feel like it’s anyone’s business but your own. But it is everyone else’s business if you are vaccinated. It is very much their business. Their life is at stake because of you if you are not vaccinated.
You wear a seatbelt; you follow traffic laws. Maybe you don’t always like it, maybe you’re not perfect, but you do it for a reason. You’re protecting yourself, but you’re also protecting everyone else. Freedom requires a sense of responsibility for yourself and your community. Otherwise, it all just falls apart. It depends on trust.
Friends and loved ones are dying, or intubated, or sedated, sometimes even giving birth while sedated and intubated. There are a whole lot of people who don’t care until it happens to them or a loved one. That’s kind of human nature for a lot of us. But there are health care workers who have families. They are suffering because of the unvaccinated. They are getting bullied while they watch people die every day. That is traumatic. That wears people down. They are suffering. None of us are sitting in ivory towers right now. This virus does not distinguish between the rich or the poor. The liberals or the conservatives. It hits us all. Pandemics offer no financial gain to anyone.
COVID vaccines are free; they are everywhere. That is really a precious thing, a luxury we get as Americans. There are people in other countries who do not have vaccines, and they are very careful about masking and social distancing because they don’t have the hospital resources, and people know that if they get infected, they may very well die because they don’t have fancy ventilators. When a country doesn’t have the means to care for you, you suddenly find you must be very careful to care for yourself.
You may not have a single loved one who has gotten infected. You may know only people who have mild symptoms. But I am begging you before it is too late: Get vaccinated. Half the country is there. We’re begging the other half to make it happen.
The whole country has the freedom to end a pandemic. We have the resources, the means, the privilege. We’ve done it before; it really can be done. We did it with polio; we did it with smallpox and many other diseases. It took everyone pitching in. You have the ability to end other people’s suffering, just like that.
We’re all hurting. It’s time we pull together. I think the most patriotic thing you can do right now is get vaccinated. There is no conspiracy; there is no secret plan. Just a lot of people hurting.
And you can fix that. That is how powerful you are.
Patricia McGuire is a physician.
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