CNS photo/Karen Pulfer Focht, Reuters

Cathy Majtenyi: The gift of vaccine is a common good

  • August 26, 2021

“My body, my choice. No one is going to tell me what to do with my body.”

Interestingly, such classic phrases that justify abortion are the same expressions that many Christians, especially the politically conservative, use to oppose being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Similar to pro-choice arguments, anti-vaccination reasoning frequently revolves around the principle of individual versus collective rights.

The right to life of the unborn child is a core concept in the pro-life movement. Protections are extended to the unborn to fulfil our responsibility towards the defenceless and vulnerable. The collective right takes priority over the individual right, except in rare cases where carrying the child to term may endanger the mother’s life.

Why have Christians not extended this logic to COVID-19 vaccination?

Vaccinating our bodies against diseases that cause great suffering and even death is not for our individual benefit. True, it works to our personal advantage, but vaccinations are designed to protect society as a whole.

Choosing to become vaccinated contributes to herd immunity. If enough people — many experts estimate up to 90 per cent of the population in the case of COVID-19 — are vaccinated, a virus has little or no room to mutate or spread.

With nowhere to go, the virus eventually dies out. Witness the eradication of polio in the United States by 1979 and the complete, worldwide eradication of smallpox by 1980.

When we undergo vaccination, we are prioritizing collective rights over individual rights. We are protecting the vulnerable: children; the elderly; people with underlying health conditions; those who are unable to get vaccinated because they are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine or some other rare condition that would compromise their health.

Vaccination frees up space in emergency rooms and hospital beds so that people having a heart attack, stroke or any other life-threatening condition can be taken care of immediately. Surgeries to treat or prevent serious diseases such as cancer don’t have to be cancelled because all resources are diverted to saving those dying from COVID-19.

Therefore, vaccination becomes a community choice, not a personal choice.

Many people bristle at the notion of the government “telling me what to do” by encouraging vaccinations and mandating COVID-19 health protocols. 

News flash: the government “tells us what to do” all the time. We pay taxes, we get tickets if we’re caught speeding, we need a permit to build an extension to our house, we abide by the law or face jail time.

We surrender some of our personal desires, wants and inclinations for the greater good, as per the social contract.

What keeps some people from becoming vaccinated are troubling reports of rare side effects such as blood clots.

It’s true that any drug, surgery, procedure or medical treatment of any kind has its risks. Three-quarters of a typical drug commercial aired on television is spent on listing all the negative side effects that could happen by taking that particular product.

Those concerned about possible negative effects of COVID vaccines should seek advice from their doctors or well-established, trustworthy sources such as public health authorities or research institutes.

It’s important to note that COVID-19 poses a far greater risk to human health than do the vaccines. Of particular concern is the Delta variant, which is twice as contagious as the previous virus and causes more severe illness than earlier strains, reports the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

While most cases of COVID clear up after a few weeks, there are a number of “long haulers,” people who continue to experience a range of physical and mental symptoms months after the initial recovery. COVID can permanently damage the heart, lungs, brain, blood vessels and severely impact mental health.

Study after study has shown that COVID-19 vaccines work. Even if fully vaccinated people become infected, they are much less likely to be hospitalized with, and die from, the virus. However, the unvaccinated are at much greater risk of serious illness and pass that risk along to others through increased infections.

The longer COVID-19 stays around, the more chances it has to mutate to become stronger, smarter and more destructive. The ultimate fear is that the vaccines that we have may no longer be effective.

Let us take a leaf from the pro-life movement and use our bodies, which ultimately belong to God, to protect the weak and vulnerable. God has given us the gift of vaccines, humanity’s tool to stop the spread and resulting suffering. To refuse this gift is a great tragedy.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research at an Ontario university.)

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