May 23, 2021
I would like to ask you to do the following thought experiment. Imagine that a group of people decide to demonstrate their liberty as citizens of the USA by gathering together on the outside of a village and randomly firing rifles in the air in the general direction of that village. For the sake of simplicity, let’s imagine that for each shot one of two outcomes takes place: each particular shot either kills a person or falls harmlessly without injuring anyone. Are these shooters within their rights to express their personal liberties?
Not according to laws of the State of Indiana. According to Indiana law, each person who pulled a trigger in the shooting example above is guilty of at least one of the following two felonies:
- The people who fired a shot and killed a person are clearly guilty of involuntary manslaughter, defined in Indiana as accidentally killing a person while committing a criminally negligent act (firing a gun in the direction of houses is clearly that). [https://codes.findlaw.com/in/title-35-criminal-law-and-procedure/in-code-sect-35-42-1-4.html]
- The people who fired a shot and did not injure a person are clearly guilty of reckless endangerment, a felony in Indiana defined as “A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally performs an act that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person commits criminal recklessness.” [https://codes.findlaw.com/in/title-35-criminal-law-and-procedure/in-code-sect-35-42-2-2.html]
Any responsible gun owner might likely say, “this is a ridiculous example; I’d never do something so irresponsible.” That might be true.
A person who is not vaccinated and does not have a reason for not being vaccinated that is based on peer-reviewed medical research or a core religious belief is really in the same position as the shooters above. Any and every person eligible to be vaccinated and not yet vaccinated may have unknowingly and unintentionally caused the death of another person. Such people may have simply created a risk of another person being killed. Or – since reality is more complicated than the example above – such a person may have caused a temporary illness or a permanent disability on the part of a person who contracted COVID-19 as a result of a person going without vaccine. There is a fourth possibility to note logically: A person who is not vaccinated and IS being tested for COVID-19 daily, and who only ventures out so long as s/he tests negative for COVID-19, would seemingly be responsible and would not be putting others at any significant risk. I doubt many people are in this category.
Note that people who have “demonstrated their liberty” in the shooting example above walk away from their shooting exercise they do not actually know which of the two above felonies they have committed. People eligible to be vaccinated and not so doing do not as a rule know how much damage they have done to other people.
There exists an argument that it is a matter of “liberty” whether or not one chooses to be vaccinated, and that people who are at risk should just isolate themselves if they feel threatened by COVID-19 (this includes people who are in categories where peer-reviewed medical research suggests not getting vaccinated, such as people with autoimmune diseases or people on immune suppressants because of a transplant). This view is legally and ethically incorrect.
Legally, this view of “those at risk should stay home” violates the 14th Amendment to the constitution – the equal protection clause. Each person has a constitutional right to go to the grocery store without being at risk of being killed as a result of their membership in a particular group. Staying unvaccinated and saying that it the responsibility of the vulnerable to stay isolated is to deny those medially unable to be vaccinated equal protection under the law.
Ethically, the view that “it’s my choice and my liberty” is unethical according to both the Golden Rule and Kant’s categorical imperative (which is functionally equivalent to the Golden Rule; I am sure that Kant was proud of himself for deriving it from first principles of ethics). A person who is not vaccinated ALSO runs the risk of facilitating the creation of new variants of COVID-19 against which current vaccines might not be effective. Those people who believe in freedom in deciding whether to be vaccinated, freedom movement, and freedom to keep businesses open are – relative to COVID-19 at least – actually the biggest long term threats to freedom of movement and freedom of keeping businesses open.
A reader might object to one aspect of my analogy between shooting and expelling particles of liquid into the air when not vaccinated against COVID-19. Someone might say “But my gun isn’t loaded; I don’t have COVID-19.” If you are being tested every day, and then going out only if you have a negative test, sure. Otherwise, those who know about gun safety know that one should treat every weapon as if it is loaded at all times. The analogy is perfect: unless you know that you are not a “loaded weapon” you should treat yourself as if you are a danger to others.
There are certain religious groups, such as Jehovah’s witnesses, that have a core belief against vaccination; while I disagree with that view one feels obligated to respect core, longstanding religious principles. (Some nutcase evangelical saying that if you wear a mask you are saying you don’t trust God is just an example of being nuts: this statement does not express a core principle of Christianity in general).
So to libertarians who see things as a matter of personal choice, and people opposed to or hesitant about vaccines:
- On this one issue and this one vaccine, please please please look at the real, peer-reviewed medical research results and get vaccinated. I say this with a significant amount of sympathy to the people who are wary of vaccines. My intuition is that people opposed to vaccinations in general are looking at the wrong thing when they claim vaccines per se are dangerous. Each and every vaccine that is given out has been carefully tested. But take a look at the impact of the multi-vaccine shots as a mechanism for distributing vaccines that may be increasing the incidence of autism. There may well be something there are regard jumbo vaccine combinations.
- Take a careful look at the statistics on the COVID-19 vaccine. Compare the statistics reported in peer-reviewed publications of the risk of dying of COVID-19 and the risk of dying of a complication of the vaccine. Roughly 600,000 people have died in the USA of COVID-19. So far not a single death has been confirmed as being a result of COVID-19 vaccinations. Fewer than 3,000 deaths have even been reported as possibly linked to COVID-19 vaccinations (https://covid-101.org/science/how-many-people-have-died-from-the-vaccine-in-the-u-s/), with more than 128 million people fully vaccinated (https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations?country=USA). Suppose the medical doctors examining cases were biased and every report of a death of a person shortly after having a vaccination really was the result of the vaccine. That puts an upper limit of a 0.002% change of dying as a result of the vaccine. To date, the chances of a citizen of the US dying of COVID-19 are roughly 0.18%. That means a person is at least one hundred times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the vaccine. And pay attention to statistics like this: there may be roughly half as many people who have had COVID-19 without any symptoms as have had symptoms. And perhaps 1% of the asymptomatic patients have long term heart damage https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2021/covid-19-and-heart-bounty-questions. If you look at the risks statistically, it’s clear based on the best data we have now the best course of action from the standpoint of any individual’s health is to get vaccinated.
- There is no evidence at this point that the COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility and there is evidence that pregnant women and their unborn children are at significant risk of death or premature delivery. If you want to have a baby and you want you and the baby to live, the stats are clear: get vaccinated. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/pregnancy-and-covid-19/art-2048263Z
- If you are not vaccinated remember this: you are maintaining the reservoir of people who are maintaining COVID-19 in the USA. You are the people offering it a home and the chance to mutate to a new form that might be resistant to the existing vaccines. You are a threat to my life and the lives of every other US citizen. Please stop!
We are beginning to see institutions other than the government take action in requiring staff and customers to be vaccinated in order to be employed or receive in-person services. I think that is laudable. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the US are requiring vaccinations for some or all members of the college/university community prior to returning to campus in the fall. Indiana University, for example, requires that each member of the IU community be fully immunized before having any contact with the IU campus or the IU community – with a few very carefully defined exceptions. (One presumes, for example, that Jehovah’s Witnesses will receive an exemption.) IU has stated that in the fall semester classes will be in person. This implies that students must be fully vaccinated prior to classes beginning of classes or they cannot be students in the fall. It also seems to imply that faculty members and staff not on some sort of leave in the fall must be vaccinated, resign, or have their employment terminated. This decision on the part of Indiana University has not come without criticism. In particular, there has been an assertion that IU is violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in regard to vaccines approved through Emergency Use Authorization status (EUA). This assertion is bull hockey, and we all know bulls don’t play hockey. This assertion is published online at https://childrenshealthdefense.org/legal/legal-resources/?fbclid=IwAR3sDgIrVu8i4NhYP4rm_Os0i5Vd_WogfidNFhRvsn7w2Uqq6NeFdCCWU5c and also in similar form at https://www.statnews.com/2021/02/23/federal-law-prohibits-employers-and-others-from-requiring-vaccination-with-a-covid-19-vaccine-distributed-under-an-eua/?fbclid=IwAR3IYITJF4jkKqfq9EKZfL1_h-BvWxvJZxQ6b9I37_QsCwwD-5DOblQFIxI .
The portion of federal law that IU and other institutions requiring vaccination for participation in campus life are accused of violating is Title 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(e)(1)(A)(ii)(I-III) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which states (https://childrenshealthdefense.org/wp-content/uploads/chd-notice-for-eua-vaccines.pdf) the following regarding vaccines approved under Emergency Use Authorization – the current status of the approval of COVID-19 vaccines:
individuals to whom the product is administered are informed—
(I) that the Secretary has authorized the emergency use of the product;
(II) of the significant known and potential benefits and risks of such use, and of the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown; and
(III) of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product, and of the alternatives to the product that are available and of their benefits and risks.
The assertion that has been made is that Indiana University and others are “requiring” vaccination in violation of this law. This is incorrect. Indiana University and other such institutions are not “requiring” anything. Indiana University, and other institutions of higher education that are stipulating vaccinated status as a prerequisite for participation in the activities of such institutions, are complying precisely with this law: they are stipulating the consequences of refusing administration of the EUA-approved COVID-19 vaccinations. Every person has a choice as to whether or not to be vaccinated. Those who choose not to be vaccinated may no longer be part of the Indiana University community (or other university and college communities that require a vaccination as a condition for community membership). Every semester faculty members leave IU for other institutions of higher education or the private sector. Every semester staff members leave IU for a different employer. Every semester students leave IU for a different institution. Remaining a member of the Indiana University community or not is a choice.
Note: Requiring that a person provide information about their vaccination status is NOT a violation of HIPAA. Privacy isn’t even in the name of the act – it’s the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA regulates how certain types of organizations protect the storage of certain types of medical information. It really says nothing about what information can be collected, and it certainly says nothing about the ability of any organization to require evidence of vaccination in order to receive services. More details are online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/hipaa-vaccine-covid-privacy-violation/2021/05/22/f5f145ec-b9ad-11eb-a6b1-81296da0339b_story.html.
I realize that no prosecutor on earth is going to charge an unvaccinated person with the felony of reckless endangerment. But see for example https://www.hoosiertimes.com/herald_times_online/opinion/columns/commentary-sadly-covid-19-hits-home/article_733aa400-eeaa-11ea-9a58-079091cd9892.html to appreciate the sadness and anger of a person who lost their life companion as a result of another person’s sloppiness or “expression of freedom.”
So please. If you want to act ethically, if you want to act in compliance with the golden rule, if you want to stop “Americans killing Americans” (as Ken Beckley put it in the aforementioned commentary), stop acting like it is your right to be a threat to the lives of others (including me) and get vaccinated against COVID-19. In at least this one case, even if you think you are right, please choose “kind to others” over “rights.” Don’t do it because I said so. Do it because you thought about the inalienable right of others to live, and let yourself give in a bit on what you perceive to be your liberties so that others might just live.
And a note to those resisting vaccination including those in my extended family: as a matter of principle, I love you. As a matter of principle, I feel obligated to hope that you will consider this tradeoff: your convenience and feelings of rugged individualism vs. my life and the lives of others. What about the liberty of others to simply live? That’s the question; please choose the answer that helps keep me, and you, and others alive.