As vaccination and booster mandates are introduced or extended during the COVID-19 pandemic, a shrinking minority of the unvaccinated are left increasingly isolated, silenced, and condemned. I am one of them. Why?
In the first place, it isn’t because I fear the side effects of a shot, or because I believe the injections will turn me into a mind-controlled automaton under the secret command of George Soros or Bill Gates. Like nearly everyone, I am already existing in an environment swamped with industrial and medical chemicals – pollutants in the air, fluoride in the water, etc.- and over the years I have willingly given blood and ingested a variety of tested and regulated pharmaceutical products, to say nothing of the untested and unregulated ones. I have all my childhood inoculations. I don’t have a problem with modern medicine or modern technology; I’m not the Unabomber. It’s misleading, and cheap, to label every vaccine holdout as a crackpot or a conspiracy theorist, as if there can be no possible reason for such a stance beyond paranoid delusion.
What’s surprising about the COVID pandemic and our responses to it – what’s historically unprecedented – has been the eagerness of hundreds of millions of people to acquiesce to the demands of the state, and this is something I do have a problem with. Most of us, of course, are already law-abiding citizens who dutifully follow many pre-existing legal and social rules. I pay taxes, have a driver’s license, a health card, and a Social Insurance Number, and no doubt I’ve voluntarily given a lot of my private data to Google, Facebook, and other tech leviathans. But none of that obedience has been compelled during an emergency, under the threat of immediate penalty. You can always choose not to get a driver’s license, or neglect to renew your health card, or stop paying your taxes – you’ll certainly be inconvenienced, and you may even be criminally charged (if you owe money), but the requirements have been in effect for a long time and citizens and governments alike understand how compliance and non-compliance works. COVID and its vaccines, on the other hand, have just emerged in a worldwide crisis. Surely any sudden imposition of a sweeping new legal regime, with an untried set of personal restrictions and official powers, is contrary to basic principles of governance? Even, or especially, when it’s imposed for “security”? Didn’t we have a similar debate about the tradeoffs between liberty and safety twenty years ago? Surely not everyone is expected to fall right in line?
As much as anything, my doubts about getting a vaccine extend from widespread doubts about how the pandemic has been managed generally. Authorities can’t even agree on how COVID-19 originated; they’ve since fumbled through a farrago of inconsistencies, contradictions, retractions and sheer speculation. Why, for example, have social distancing dictates been enforced at neighborhood retail outlets, but not at suburban big-box stores? Why have household bubble constraints kept us from visiting Grandma, but not from hopping on a crowded bus? Why can we fly to the US, but not drive? It’s not a question of “science” versus “misinformation”: experts are honestly trying to do the right thing, but that’s not always clear, and critics are honestly trying to bring alternative ideas to a fraught conversation, but they’re not always experts. I’ve done everything asked of me so far, like working from home, keeping my kids from school, wearing a mask, washing my hands, and walking the right way down the grocery aisle, but apparently it’s not enough: being unvaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021 has become the equivalent of being a card-carrying Communist in 1951, with all the moral stigma and professional disadvantage that accompanies it. But how will the vaccine passport I’m now pressured into getting make a difference in the pandemic’s trajectory? What about regular boosters? Double doses? Mixed doses? Triple doses? More lockdowns? Permanent masking and social distancing? Does anyone know? Who’s in charge? And so my vaccine refusal is not about fake news, or private phobias, but about honorable traditions of conscientious objection, freedom of thought, and (note the adjective) healthy skepticism.
Postscript: I’ve just been vaccinated. It was either that or, as my employer helpfully explained, take an indefinite unpaid leave. Somehow, this isn’t the return to normal we were promised.