Recently, the CDC recommended a vaccine booster for those with health issues that affect the immune system. My wife and I got ours on Tuesday. It was a remarkably easy process - I suspect, in part, because pharmacies have so many vaccine doses that are in danger of going bad because no one is taking them, but that’s just a guess. Point is, we got them. Next day I had a sore arm, and felt like you do when you have a bad cold coming on. It’s a small price to pay for my safety and that of everyone around me.
And yet. According to various sites I’ve checked (I’d cite them, but they are numerous and easy to find), Tennessee is hovering around 40 percent full vaccination rate for those who are eligible for the vaccine. When you add in the people who took one shot but haven’t taken the second, it rises to 47 percent. Fewer than half. And believe it or not, Tennessee has one of the higher rates in the South. There are still a lot of people, here and around the country, who refuse to get the shot. Since the vaccines became widely available, I’ve personally known three people who have died of COVID-19 - two of them here in Sparta, both my age or younger. Why would people take that risk - not just to themselves, but to others? For that matter, why have so many people been so adamantly opposed to wearing masks?
I’ve heard a lot of justifications. Personal freedom of choice is the most common. Others say that to wear a mask or get a shot would display a lack of faith in God. I would point those people to Leviticus 13, where God commanded anyone who seems to have leprosy to have it inspected by an expert, and if they have it they must practice “social distance,” warn people who approach them, and cover their mouth and nose if anyone gets too close. Or perhaps to Matthew 4:7, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Or even “Love thy neighbor.” I’ve also heard concerns about the vaccines’ safety. One person said they hadn’t gotten it because they heard it makes you sterile. Another told me they don’t trust scientists because first they said Pluto was a planet, now they say it’s not. And there are a lot of QAnon folks out there who believe the whole thing is a scam to inject computer chips into your bloodstream so Bill Gates can control your mind, as if he hasn’t already done that with computers. Some people, though, raise valid points. Is it really safe to take something that was developed so quickly without waiting to see its long-term effects? I had this initial concern myself. I would make two points here: first, the reason it was developed so fast is because scientists have been studying other coronavirus strains for decades, and second, you have to weigh the dangers in the balance. If your hotel is on fire and it is full of people, and there is a fire extinguisher handy, is that the time for an internal debate about the possible long-term effects of fire extinguisher foam?
The “personal freedom” folks raise a point worth considering. I’ve frequently argued that I believe in striking a balance between personal liberty and community good. But your personal liberty reaches its limit when it endangers the life and liberty of someone else. If this virus is allowed to keep spreading, it will mutate into stronger versions.
Libertarians and conservatives argue that the government should not meddle in individual moral choices. But that implies the belief that, if left on their own, people will usually do the right thing without having to be forced to do so.
If you believe that and haven’t been vaccinated, folks, you’re proving my point and not your own.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.