A talking point about vaccine hesitancy that Governor Gavin Newsom and others are promulgating this week is one that may not make any headway with individualistic and stubbornly skeptical Americans who still refuse to be vaccinated. But it's likely to frame much of the back-and-forth for the remainder of 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns in the California recall.
Is the question about getting or not getting a vaccine one of civil liberties and relative freedom of choice? The United States has long been a place where individual freedom is prized above all, but there always limits to that freedom in a civil society, and throughout the pandemic we have seen Americans — especially Republicans — trying to make issues of lockdowns and mask mandates black and white, freedom vs. communism. And that needs to stop.
"There's a recognition that a very small percentage of the public that continue[s] to be stubborn about getting life-saving vaccines. And the reality now is a recognition that the freedom of that decision not to be vaccinated is impacting the rest of us," Newsom said in comments Monday to Now This News. "And that freedom, that choice, is something that also increasingly needs to be called out. Look, we don't allow people to have the ability to drink and drive drunk, because not only [do they] put their own lives at risk, they put everybody else's lives at risk."
‘The freedom of that decision not to be vaccinated is impacting the rest of us’ — CA Gov. @GavinNewsom explains the decision to require certain workers to get vaccinated or be tested every week in this NowThis exclusive pic.twitter.com/XqdWr51mVF— NowThis (@nowthisnews) July 27, 2021
Newsom made similar comments at a press event in Oakland, and on CNN and MSNBC on Monday, all part of an escalation of rhetoric that has political ends for him — voter turnout among Democrats and Independents is clearly going to be key in the recall, and a new poll finds that Republicans are a lot more likely to show up to vote right now. The 'No' campaign now wants to stir up the passions of the vaccinated and pro-science, in the hope that it will help keep Newsom in office.
But as the New York Times reports, anger among the vaccinated appears to be rising all over. And how could it not after a brief few weeks of freedom from masks and bars being back open and normal-seeming?
Those who dutifully ran to be vaccinated the first chance they got did so because they wanted to return to normal responsibly. The remainder of the country, for their various reasons and misguided skepticisms, clearly wanted to return to normal without taking individual responsibility themselves — and not being familiar with epidemiology, they apparently weren't listening or understanding the warnings that more surges would come and they too could be infected and/or die from COVID-19.
"If we’re respecting the rights and liberties of the unvaccinated, what’s happening to the rights and liberties of the vaccinated?” says Elif Akcali, a professor of engineering at the University of Florida, Gainesville, speaking to the Times. She's worried students at the school will create clusters of virus this fall because vaccinations aren't being required.
The media is beginning to promote schadenfreude-inducing stories like this one, which quoted a doctor at a Birmingham, Alabama hospital complaining on Facebook about the unvaccinated patients she's now having to treat with serious COVID infections.
"One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine," wrote Dr. Brytney Cobia. "I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late."
And the Times quotes a 21-year-old bookstore manager from Santa Monica who says, "I feel like if you chose not to get vaccinated, and now you get sick, it’s kind of your bad."
As more and more freedoms are taken away from the unvaccinated, like attending concerts and going inside bars in San Francisco, perhaps that will move the needle for some.
A vaccine mandate for all cafes and restaurants in France seems to have motivated some of the hesitant to seek vaccinations, and that prompted Stanford infectious disease expert Robert Siegel to write an opinion piece for the Chronicle last week suggesting that may just be the ticket for the Bay Area too.
"In the Bay Area, the possibility of having such a rule in bars and restaurants is extremely compelling," Siegel says. "We are obsessed with food and blessed with diverse culinary opportunities and fresh ingredients. Unfortunately, restaurants are among the few places where removing a mask is unavoidable, and indoor dining is known to be an activity where COVID-19 can spread. What if we took the step of requiring a vaccination passport to get into restaurants, too?"
"As in France, anyone willing to give up their right to eat out or to frequent stores or events may retain their right to remaining unvaccinated," Siegel says. "But many others may be enticed to join the growing ranks of the vaccinated and enjoy the many health, economic and psychological privileges that vaccination confers."
Top image: A mother and her children hold anti-vaccination and anti-COVID-19 mandate signs in protest on state capitol grounds on April 14, 2021 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Gov. Andy Beshear announced the Team Kentucky Vaccination Challenge on Monday, outlining that once 2.5 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the state will remove most capacity restrictions. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)