For years my sympathies lay with those who (correctly) scolded the foolish parents that would not inoculate their children against common, potentially devastating ailments, with vaccines known for decades to be safe and efficacious. Seeing a drop in the stock prices for iron lungs was a good thing, and still is.
But for all the tiresome talk in this exhausting year past, COVID-19 is not the death sentence many would have us believe, particularly for anyone of average health under the age of seventy. Yes, there are plenty of contrary anecdotes, but they are nowhere near the preponderance to justify what is now happening.
At least half of the news coverage on any given day (pick your source) seems devoted to this or that version of the COVID vaccine, and which maker has produced the most, which shot causes (or doesn’t) blood clots, and whether or not we’ll all need a third booster to be allowed to eat Thanksgiving in good conscience with the rest of the family. I have some colleagues who are excellent physicians who have opted to take the vaccine, and are pleased with their decision. I have other equally esteemed
colleagues who have decided against being vaccinated, also for reasons that seem proper to them. What most seem to agree upon is that the decision to take or not take the vaccine is based on the risk: benefit ratio for the individual. This should be our standard for ourselves, and for counselling patients. The only hard stance I have beyond this is that no one should be forced to take a vaccine about which we likely have a great deal yet to learn. And that leads to the truly terrifying side effect common to all of the COVID vaccines, no matter the manufacturer: every version induces in the larger population a fanatical demand for universal adherence.
Item: New York City is flirting with a vaccine passport system that might be used to bar would-
be spectators from sporting events in venues such as Madison Square Garden. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who knows a thing or two about ruining lives for the Greater Good, said, “The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way, allowing us to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal.” Attendees “will be required to use a phone app or paper version of the pass to display their ‘green’ vaccination and testing status, with state guidelines in place to mandate the scheme,” a system that Cuomo assures will be “completely confidential.” Hey, it’s just a ball game, and anyone who doesn’t want to play ball by protecting their fellow persons, shouldn’t be allowed to watch anyone else play ball, right? And if there’s a glitch in the whole “confidential” part, and some teacher or store clerk is fired because their employer found out that they tried to see a concert unvaccinated…eh…the greater good.
Item: “Columbia University Senior Executive Vice President Gerry Rosberg said based on ‘strong
recommendation’ from public health colleagues, university leaders have chosen to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all students on campus this fall.” It’s not like anyone has a right to go to an Ivy League school, even if the odds of a
healthy twenty-year-old getting roofied at that next on-campus struggle session are astronomically higher than actually being hospitalized for COVID-related illness (a close friend works at the student health center of a major university, and did not have to send a single COVID-positive underrclassma-, uh, person to the hospital this entire past year). “Every year, in order to utilize the campus, students must sign a ‘Columbia Community Health Compact’ that ensures their compliance with certain health and safety regulations. The vaccinate mandate will be added to that compact. The campus will still enforce other safety protocols, like face masks and social distancing, which they say has proven to work seeing as their COVID-19 test positivity rate has been a mere 0.39% since June 2020.” Columbia University must be an enchanted place indeed, as those strategies have not been proven to work anywhere else. Of course, no one is required to attend Columbia, and even those who have invested a great deal of money and time in this institution may simply transfer or cut their losses if they don’t want to be vaccinated – it’s their choice, after all. Like going to ball games or concerts, attending a fancy university is a privileged activity, and not as essential as simple, everyday existence.
Item: Earlier this month, a volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent blew up, prompting a lot of islanders to flee, quickly, and cruise ships were enlisted to aid on the evacuation. “Prime Minister Gonsalves said on Thursday that in order to board the cruise ships sent to evacuate people from the island, evacuees must be vaccinated, while the nearby island nations that are planning to accept refugees will also require vaccinations.” Apparently, there was some crawfishing (langouste’ing?), as the evacuating Royal Caribbean line did not make vaccination mandatory to board their ships. But the government precedent had been attempted.
What does this have to do with you and I? In a world where public health has suddenly become the highest demanded loyalty of our professionalism, any skepticism of this mission is immediate heterodoxy, and the skeptic an apostate. For too many years physicians and eager hospital administrators have conflated the Hippocratic Oath into some sort of world-hugging compact, wherein we can be ordered to do to anything for any group designated by the public mood because … dammit you took an oath!
Now that sporting arenas, colleges, and inconsequential island governments like St. Vincent and the U.K. require vaccination against a virus, so too may airlines, major industries, or even municipal governments before we know it. What if a state so dug-in to justify a long-debunked lockdown policy makes it a licensure requirement for primary care physicians to meet percentage-vaccinated goals in their practices? What if an individual physician determines that it is not in the best interest of a patient to administer a vaccine demanded by the collective? What if a physician determines it is his ethical duty to falsify a vaccine record to protect either the patient or himself?