Today I came across two articles about COVID-19 vaccination that caught my attention. I was particularly interested in how the voluntarily unvaccinated populations of various countries are being paraded as scapegoats for the rise in cases at the present moment.

This article from Vox makes the following claim:

"Unvaccinated people, whether they’re apathetic or resistant, are the reason the coronavirus remains a threat in the US."

They make it sound like the country is facing some existential risk because a minority are unwilling to get a vaccine. But this same article then goes on to state:

"Based on all the evidence, the vaccines really work, including against the variants. Vaccinated people may still get infected by the coronavirus, leading to flu-like symptoms. But the vaccines nearly eliminate the risk of hospitalization and death — the real threat of Covid-19 — even with the variants."

These two realities don't quite add up. If vaccinated people have their risk of hospitalization and death 'nearly eliminated', then why is COVID-19 still a threat to the entire country? Would that not technically make COVID-19 a threat only to those who voluntarily choose to remain unvaccinated?

Further, if it's mainly those who are choosing to abstain from vaccination that end up hospitalized or dead, why should the entire country be bothered about that?

This sentiment is explored in this article from Quillette:

"Herd immunity is unlikely to come from vaccination. Existing COVID vaccines are simply not good enough at preventing transmission and infection. They are, however, very good at preventing severe disease and death. For the individual, that is good enough—so long as you’ve had your jabs."

Further on, the Quillette article draws a different conclusion than the Vox article:

"... Without herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2, the [vaccine refusers] are on their own... [It] is their choice and whilst we should deter gullible people from being pulled into their orbit, we should not coerce them... They alone will face the consequences of their actions."

I agree more with the conclusion of the Quillette article. And these two somewhat divergent perspectives got me thinking.

As a society, we're generally pretty agreeable about the freedom of others to make personal health choices. Smoking, drinking, and unhealthy diets kill a huge number of people each year. Cigarettes are readily available at any convenience store, and liquor stores were deemed an essential service during pandemic lockdowns. Obesity is a recognized health crisis in countries like the US, yet we don't see any gargantuan push to ban added sugar and processed foods.

The epidemiology of smoking, drinking, and eating bad food are well established, yet we're not forcing anybody to stop consuming these things. So why are we acting as though it's some moral imperative for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19, when ultimately it's their own health that's most at risk?

Shaming the unvaccinated minority and trying to force vaccines on them might not be the best approach here. It's not going to change anyone's mind (the Vox article argues that it could do the opposite), and it's only going to create further division among society. At this point, it may be that our best shot at herd immunity is to just let the unvaccinated minority contract the virus and develop natural immunity to it.

Once enough people are either vaccinated or have natural immunity, life can continue on as normal. One isn't necessarily better than the other. It ultimately comes down to personal choice.

So, what should we do with the vaccine refusers? Leave them to it. Ignore them. If cases continue to rise, the vaccinated majority are at a very low risk of contracting serious illness. And when the unvaccinated minority contract COVID-19, they'll most likely be fine too.

Sources:

  1. German Lopez, Vox Media. "Mandate the vaccine, not masks"
  2. Christopher J. Snowdon, Quillette. "Vaccines and the Coronavirus Crank Crisis"

Cover Photo by Sara Bakhshi on Unsplash