Those complaining about personal freedom being suppressed by new COVID rules are ignoring one thing: These very restrictions they loathe are here to keep them alive.
The rise of new COVID-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Delta variant — and the return of restrictions in their wake — has produced a new wave of conspiracy theories and overall reluctance from the unvaccinated.
My op-ed last Tuesday making the case for why the unvaccinated shouldn’t have fun in public spaces opened a floodgate of hate mail from individuals who decided to call me, a Black queer millennial, a “Nazi” and an “oppressor” because I expressed the risks involved. It’s apparent that science is being ignored right now in favor of conspiracy-driven thinking, especially when it comes to masking, vaccines, and proof of vaccination. Even mainstream politicians are misappropriating history to justify a lack of caution when it comes to this pandemic.
But that hasn’t stopped others, including the city, from prioritizing science over insanity.
As the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, I was proud when my executive board approved a new COVID-19 policy mandating that all our members be fully vaccinated in order to attend in-person events. Overall reaction from our organization was positive, with several members thanking us for taking the necessary precautions before potential government intervention. But onlookers on social media who saw the announcement tried to make the same kinds of arguments many anti-vaxxers have made.
“How can’t you see that not allowing the unvaxxed entry is segregation,” someone direct-messaged me.
“What happened to Black Lives Matter,” they continued. “Don’t my unvaxxed life matter?”
It took me a few minutes to respond, because the conflation of Black Lives Matter and unvaccinated individuals choosing not to protect themselves against a deadly virus wasn’t registering. But it was in that moment that I had an epiphany about the messaging of these restrictions and how it was less about me — someone who’s fully vaccinated and wearing a mask — than about those who aren’t.
“Yes, your life does matter,” I answered. “In fact, these restrictions are about trying to save your life, not mine.”
“Fair point,” they responded, following up, with a more positive tone, by asking me what it was like to get vaccinated.
This interaction made me realize what’s been missing in the discourse between those who elect to be unvaccinated and the vaxxed: a reminder of what the point of all of these restrictions and regulations really is — and who, at this stage of the game, they’re here to protect. It’s all in the science: As a fully vaxxed person, my likelihood of being hospitalized or dying from COVID is extremely low. Even with the Delta variant spreading, the CDC has estimated that vaccinated people are eight times less likely to get sick and 25 times less likely to end up in the hospital compared to unvaccinated people. That said, as a vaccinated person, I can still contract the disease and spread it — and the unvaccinated are most at risk if I do.
Which is why these restrictions requiring that unvaccinated people not go into places with those who are vaccinated (who could have COVID and infect them) are for their own good. By putting restrictions in place to stop the unvaxxed from getting a deadly virus, health officials are actually prolonging their lives — giving them more time to complain about those restrictions they say they hate so much.
Want to find other ways to suggest that your personal freedom to choose death is being taken away? Go argue at a car dealership about airbags. Debate your school district for making your kids and their teachers be vaccinated against other deadly viruses. Complain to the department of food safety about enforcing proper hygiene at restaurants, and get upset that surgeons have to mask up during open-heart surgery. Restrictions, mandates and guidelines have long been around — and this response to COVID is nothing different.
While a lot of the back-and-forth could easily be resolved if more people got vaccinated, what needs to stop immediately is the misinformation being spread — no, the vaccine isn’t being used to microchip you — so we can focus on the truth: The vaccine is here to protect you. An increase in vaccinations is what allowed us to lift the previous restrictions; those who don’t want to do their part in the fight against COVID are what’s setting us back. So restrictions are necessary again to protect those who are too rebellious to save themselves.
Consider such mandates tough love — and maybe one day, the the unvaxxed will be grateful that the rest of us were looking out for them, even when they didn’t look out for themselves.
COVID Restrictions Are Protecting Unvaccinated Lives is written by Ernest Owens for www.phillymag.com