April 2, 2023

Imagine this: You are a doctor. It has been a long year as you fight COVID-19 on the front lines, enduring both the physical and emotional trauma that comes with being a first responder during a pandemic. You have worked long hours, and you have spent years studying in medical school. Suddenly, you are fired. You are jobless. You have no income. Despite your dedication during the pandemic, you are no longer important enough to employ.

This story sounds like it should be a terrifying work of fiction, but, unfortunately, it is happening in our own country at countless hospitals. Hundreds of healthcare employees across the U.S. have faced termination for one simple reason: vaccine mandates.

These mandates have spread beyond healthcare fields and now apply to many workplaces and schools with little wiggle room for other accommodations. 

Thousands of Americans are facing job loss simply because they refuse to get a vaccine. Other Americans are facing difficulty in going about daily life in cities such as Los Angeles and New York City, which requires proof of vaccination for basic activities such as indoor dining, gyms and indoor entertainment.

Current mandates have few allowances for exemptions, especially for fields such as healthcare, and many have strict deadlines that people must abide by. Some mandates accomodate testing options. However, such requirements can become especially difficult for those facing vaccine mandates to simply go to stores or restaurants.

It is first important to note that the debate over the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine is distinct from the debate over vaccine mandates. I am not arguing in favor or against the vaccine. However, the COVID-19 vaccine mandates sweeping the nation now are appallingly totalitarian and inappropriate.

It is true that vaccine mandates have been instituted in the past. However, the nature of the COVID-19 virus and vaccine makes this argument completely invalid.

The goal of vaccine mandates in the past was largely to reach herd immunity and thereby prevent the spread of infection. Ultimately, vaccine mandates aim to eradicate diseases. 

Vaccines operate by either inserting inactive portions of a virus (vector-based vaccine) or a piece of mRNA encoding a viral protein (mRNA vaccine) into the body to trigger an immune response. The body will “remember” the virus so the immune response will be quicker upon exposure.

However, regarding COVID-19, herd immunity and eradication are extremely unlikely because of the high rate of mutation in the virus. In the past, vaccine mandates for diseases such as smallpox and polio were effective because these viruses have extremely low mutation rates, meaning the vaccine’s level of effectiveness did not diminish quickly over time. This low mutation rate made it possible for eradication efforts to succeed for smallpox.

Unlike smallpox and polio, SARS-CoV-2 mutates once every two weeks, according to a 2021 study by scientists at the Universities of Bath and Edinburgh. This high mutation rate makes the COVID-19 virus more similar to the influenza virus, which has yearly seasons, than viruses that cause diseases such as polio and smallpox. As a result, it is unlikely that we can successfully eradicate COVID-19 or reach herd immunity, ensuring the failure of vaccine mandates.

Despite this reality, some may argue that vaccine mandates are still justified to prevent the spread of the virus. The only somewhat valid justification for removing freedoms and putting widespread vaccine mandates in place is the fact that vaccine mandates should, in theory, prevent infection in vaccinated individuals and therefore eliminate the possibility of them spreading it to other individuals. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully vaccinated people with the Delta variant, one of the dominant strains of COVID-19, can still get and transmit the virus, though cases in vaccinated individuals will likely be less severe.

Therefore, the vaccine mandates do not prevent transmission of the virus. As a result, it should not matter to you whether or not those around you got the vaccine. If you made the choice to get it, you are protected. If you did not get the vaccine, it is your decision to take that risk. You are not heightening the risk to others since both unvaccinated and vaccinated people can transmit the virus.

Furthermore, the stringent testing process for vaccines has historically taken 10-15 years for research and testing. The COVID-19 pandemic began less than two years ago and vaccine rollout began less than a year later. Regardless of personal beliefs regarding the vaccine, we should respect the skepticism and hesitance of those who do not wish to get the vaccine due to the rushed research and testing process.

Where will vaccine mandates end? Will we be satisfied when it is impossible for unvaccinated individuals to get a job? Or when they can no longer eat at a restaurant, or go to the grocery store or to a bowling alley, anywhere in the nation? When did we decide that discriminating against others because of their personal beliefs was acceptable?

As a nation, we must stop coercing people into getting the vaccine, threatening them with unemployment and an inability to carry out basic tasks. If you are vaccinated, stand up against vaccine mandates for those around you. If you choose to be unvaccinated, continue to reject them for yourself.

It is ironic that a vaccine meant to save lives is destroying so many. If we do not end these vaccine mandates, I am afraid for the future of our country. Get the shot, or don’t. It is your choice. Either way, let’s stop hinging livelihoods on whatever path people choose.

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