EDITORS’ NOTE: For another viewpoint, see Point: In Defense of Vaccine Freedom.
So-called “vaccine freedom” legislation before the New Hampshire General Court takes aim at a ship that sailed 116 years ago.
In 1905, weighing in on a Cambridge, Massachusetts ordinance, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ability of governments to require vaccination. Were the ordinance to be defied, “the spectacle would be presented of the welfare and safety of an entire population being subordinated to the notions of a single individual who chooses to remain a part of that population.”
Smallpox vaccination was required of everyone until 1972, when the disease was largely eradicated. There is not a single state that does not require children to be vaccinated against polio before receiving child care or attending elementary school. The same is true of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. To attend school, older children in any state need to receive their Tdap vaccine (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis), generally beginning as early as the 6th grade – or age 11 in New Hampshire.
Occasional outbreaks of pertussis (“whooping cough”) still occur, incubating among the unvaccinated. For similar reasons, in 2019 there were over one thousand measles cases in the U.S., the highest number since 1992.
Against this backdrop, why would we forbid requiring vaccination against a virus that, as I write this, has killed over 570,000 Americans and continues to mutate in the general public? Why would we draw the line for this uncommonly lethal virus? Southern New Hampshire University has already declared they will require COVID-19 vaccination for students to return to campus. Of course. The universities I attended all required vaccination against less prevalent diseases. Should we tell SNHU to relocate to another state? What kind of weird businesses would we attract to fill the place of it and others that choose to require vaccination?
Why has vaccination become politicized? Two of the vaccines in use in the U.S., Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s, were developed with federal investment from the Trump Administration through Operation Warp Speed. President Trump himself was vaccinated, calling it “a true miracle.”
Few members of Congress have more conservative bona fides than U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R., Maryland), who supported President Trump’s claims of a stolen election, was the only House member to vote “present” on a resolution denouncing QAnon, set off a House metal detector trying to enter with a gun, and opposed state-at-home orders and business restrictions in response to COVID-19. Pretty conservative guy, right?
And yet Rep. Harris, a physician, has also administered shots at Maryland’s mass COVID-19 vaccination site and other locations.
Representing long-term care facilities in New Hampshire, I am proud the staff working in them had the nation’s highest voluntary rate of vaccination. Yet, as we watch variants develop and India now being torn apart by this virus, we are not prescient enough to know what may prove necessary in getting our society to a place where it can co-exist with COVID-19 under a semblance of normalcy.
“Freedom” does not give one the freedom to infect others. And what of free enterprise being impeded by politicians second-guessing decisions by businesspeople trying to keep their doors open? Also, consider the paradox: Many who oppose vaccination oppose wearing masks. Yet, until we get to a point where enough people are vaccinated, businesses will keep requiring you to wear masks to at least protect their own workers, if not their customers too.
In waging culture wars, let us pick our battles more carefully.