By Katelin Murphy
I recall a conversation with a loved one who lives in another state from when the first vaccine came out and people started receiving vaccinations. She was so excited to get vaccinated that she joked about coming across the border into Massachusetts to “try and sneak a shot.” I remember asking her why she so desperately would want to be first in line. She became immediately defensive, firmly stating her belief in medicine, and that “everyone should be doing it. It’s the right thing to do.” Not wanting to get into a heated argument by expressing my reservations, I just dropped it.
As it turns out, I am not the only one seeking to avoid conflicts about this issue. During my time researching how the Worcester State community is reacting to Covid-19, I spoke to a student named Abbey Howard. When she is not in school, Abbey works in a hospital. And because of her job, she has already received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. During our conversation she said, “I really don’t find myself wanting to debate with people about this.” I believe this is something that resonates with all of us.
No matter where you turn there are people posting their opinions about the vaccine online, passionately defending themselves against the naysayers drowning out any criticism or skepticism. This seems to me to be an issue of tolerance and freedom of speech. One only has to look at how strangers yell at other strangers about masking during this global pandemic to get some indication how unkind ordinary citizens can be. Perhaps it is best to pull away from the world of social media and work on looking through research and studies regarding the available vaccines. This would offer some relief from the court of public opinion that prevents readers the chance of getting factual data and results of current and upcoming vaccinations. Yet, shying away from disagreements in one’s public or private life neither encourages honesty nor fosters good relationships. Thus, do not shy away from these in-person conversations. Open up and engage in these topics in a gentle and considerate way. Make sure everyone feels heard and all perspectives are considered, even if, in the end, disagreements persist.
That brings me to the Covid-19 Vaccine. Choosing to get inoculated is often considered the kind of moral behavior expected of everyone, done for the greater good. Opposing inoculation is typically predicated on exercising one’s individual rights and bodily autonomy. Which argument should prevail? That’s difficult to say not least because one’s opinions and assessments are often met with hostility and contempt by dissenters. No matter which side one takes, one’s own opinion undoubtedly has important health implications. Arguments in favor of Covid-19 vaccines generally take this form: due to the contagiousness and lethality of this disease, death or great bodily harm to oneself and others is likely; therefore, it is a moral obligation to get vaccinated for the greater good of society. On the contrary, and to the side which I lean more towards, by refusing the vaccine one may believe exercising one’s individual right to opt out is the highest good. No matter the side one is on, opinion regarding one’s own health tends to be the most important factor in decision-making. There is no denying vaccination is an individual choice that can benefit society, however, there seem to be few compelling reasons for overriding an individual’s bodily autonomy by legally mandating a Covid-19 vaccine.
People have been and are already struggling during these times. Being stuck at home, estranged from school, away from loved ones. It takes a toll on mental health in a vastly different way than anything we have experienced before. And the release of the new Covid-19 vaccines has given rise to sometimes-stressful conversations with friends, loved ones, and strangers in person and all-over social media. According to an Axios-Ipsos poll conducted in August and September 2020, 60% of Americans would refuse vaccination (regardless of political affiliation) compared to 13% of Americans that would seek inoculation immediately. More recent data from the New England Journal of Medicine indicates only 20% of Americans are reluctant to get vaccinated and 31% of Americans “wish to take a wait-and-see approach”. This should warrant more open discussions about these discrepancies.
Both sides of the argument are valid and should be considered when making this decision regarding one’s health. People who are eager to get vaccinated may choose to do so from a desire to return to “normal” as soon as possible. Other individuals might choose vaccination to protect themselves and their loved ones because of pre-existing health conditions that could complicate recovery if one of them were to become infected. These are all valid reasons for wanting to get a vaccine. Those who express more skepticism about the vaccine may cite how quickly the vaccine was produced and distributed to the public. Indeed, according to Nature, the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was the fastest vaccine rollout in history. Perhaps, being a woman, one could be concerned about future fertility problems or complications with a current pregnancy; Johns Hopkins stresses that although vaccination will not harm a woman’s ability to become pregnant, it can be dangerous for pregnant women to get vaccination and thus urges seek professional medical advice. Moreover, the above Axios-Ipsos poll also indicated that women were more hesitant about the vaccine than men. The current medical literature has little to no information about these and other long term side effects of Covid-19 vaccination because, as the New England Journal of Medicine says, “vaccines are typically not approved until 2 years of follow-up data have been gathered.” No matter the rationale, these concerns are worth discussing. The decisions one makes regarding one’s own health is an individual choice alone. And when talking to a loved one about something as crucial as health it is important that both sides be able to engage in an honest and open conversation free of animosity. Rather than a winner-takes-all mentality to discussion, sincere effort needs to be made on both ends to actively listen, learn and more effectively communicate about the vaccine options at hand.
At the end of the day, these should be conversations that come from a place of love, mutual respect, and a desire to flesh out the truth. It is admirable (and often expected) to believe and act in the best interest of friends and loved ones which makes these difficult conversations about vaccination so essential. Every side of the argument should be heard and respected, but more importantly, open to criticism. Conversations such as these should not devolve into screaming, shunning, or violence. When injecting anything into one’s body, ethics demands reason, evidence, consent, and open discussion about all the particulars involved in such a personal decision. Ultimately, it is an individual choice and there should always be a level of respect for someone’s opinion whether you agree or not.