I had a contretemps recently.
I saw a relative post about vaccines and jobs (and the possible loss of the latter for a lack of the former) and in opposition to mandates for health care workers, and I jumped in on the side of the mandate, because, well, science, and because I feel strongly that freedom of choice doesn’t mean that employers in health care professions shouldn’t be able to require health care workers to be vaccinated, regardless of ‘personal choice.’ I was inconsiderate in jumping in as I did, and I later apologized, but the debate raised some important questions.
Personal choice is fine, but there are consequences if you make a choice that your employer deems is not helpful to managing a pandemic. There are consequences to your choices when you work in close proximity to vulnerable patients. You can choose not to be vaccinated; your employer can choose to no longer employ you.
Should people lose their job because of their beliefs? It depends. It sucks if they do. But is this a question of freedom? And how do you define the common good? This is where it gets tricky.
I can’t claim to be smarter than other people. I’m not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over forty years, it’s that I’m not smarter than other people.
But what I do know is that I’m confident in the sources I trust. I’ve thought about which sources to trust, and which to question. The opinions of hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists and epidemiologists, or the instincts of a few individuals who “feel” that a vaccine is bad for them? I know I don’t know more than the consensus of science. There’s an arrogance to the anti-vaxxers (ironically, in response to the debate, I was called arrogant for referencing science, not by the person close to me, but to another satellite to the conversation).
But the vaccination itself is not the only ethical question, of course. Anti-vaxx or not, what about personal choice? If someone doesn’t want to inject a vaccine into their body, not without decades of proven results (as with the flu vaccine), do they deserve to lose their job? People who have studied long and hard to secure complex, heartrending difficult jobs, should they be fired because they don’t want the vaccine?
They don’t deserve to lose their jobs in a cosmic sense. But. In a pandemic, leaders have to weigh so many costs and benefits. Whether you think one deserves to lose their job over a vaccine is going to depend on your own point of view; but this question doesn’t depend on an individual point of view. The reality is that the best solution is for everyone to take the vaccine, because anti-vaccine science is bullshit. Utter bullshit, with no justification stemming from any reputable scientist (you might find outliers to justify any argument, but look to the consensus). And yet, we can’t blame people who ask themselves, “What if x happens?”
For those who elect not to take the vaccine? That’s your choice, and I hear why you might not be comfortable with vaccines. But I know that if I were a patient, and I learned you were treating me and you chose not to take an easy step to reduce the risk to me, flying in the face of science and decades of vaccination history, I would be unhappy.
There are two other critical questions that come in to play, thanks to the debate I had, and which are questions that should be addressed, because they do matter: student debt for nurses, and health coverage.
People who don’t want the vaccine might not be able to leave their job easily, because of massive debt accumulated through the years they spent dedicating themselves to the health care profession. And they might rely on the health benefits that come with their job, for themselves or others.
Of COURSE they are going to fight for their jobs. As they should. They deserve health care. And debt accrued while trying to help? That’s awful.
This is why we need to find ways to forgive student debt. It can be done. If you serve long enough in a public field, such as education, you can get debt forgiven in many states. This should no doubt include the medical profession. That’s a hard job that I could never do. Let’s do what we can to support people who take it on.
And health care? It’s really time for universal health care. People shouldn’t have to rely on their employment benefits in order to stay healthy.
So, in the long run, it was a good conversation, and I can only hope I didn’t burn any bridges with my relative. However, I stand by what I said; a vaccination mandate for health care workers? It would be insane to say no.
But. We have to have compassion and be prepared to take care of people who might choose to say no. That’s the trick.
In short, we need to figure out how to take care of everyone who needs help, we need to make sure misinformation is stamped out, and we need to make sure we can stand up for what is right for individuals and the community.
No wonder we all have headaches these days.