CURRENT EVENTS – VIRTUE AND THE COVID-19 VACCINE (continued)

We ended last time recognizing the ethical calculus on receiving the Covid-19 vaccine  applies at three levels of reality – individual, proximate, and societal. The simplest of these is the first or reality at the level of the individual where the decision is both simple and less urgent. If your fear of contracting Covid-19 infection, of suffering temporary symptoms (such as loss of smell and taste), of the small risk of hospitalization, and of the even smaller danger of death (say 1 in 200) is less than your concern of unknown but unlikely dangers of the vaccine (not yet seen after hundreds of millions of doses), you might come to the subjectively sound if objectively dubious decision to hold on vaccination. At this level, the best case against vaccination could be made for children and young people who are at least natural risk.

At the level of proximate reality (those around you and with whom you have contact), your ethical responsibility is not to serve as a conduit for direct spread of the virus to other, possibly more vulnerable, persons particularly family and friends. This too is a risk/benefit decision – i.e. the risk of unintended harm to others including their possible death versus your anxiety about an apparently safe vaccine. While to me it seems selfish for you to risk the health of others for unproven fears, a case might be made to delay vaccination if you have limited or no contact with people (other than those already vaccinated) or if you are willing to commit to vigorous protection by double masking, maintaining distance, and limiting interactions to outside. Perhaps phobic persons might justify this approach.

The crux of the ethical issue however is at the level of society. The body of a person infected with Covid-19 produces billions of new copies of the virus. In the copying process errors are made – called mutations – just as would happen if you were to make billions of handwritten copies of a poem or essay. While most of these mutations are harmless, rarely the mutant virus is more infectious or more virulent (likely to kill). In fact a mutant copy of the virus might not be prevented by the vaccines already available and thus could lead to a new epidemic.

Here I would like to point out that most of us have homes, cars, cell phones, food, clothing, medicines, and so forth that we would not have if not for modern civilization. There are tremendous benefits to living in society. In return don’t we have a duty not to be the source of another pandemic? There is no excuse imaginable for declining a generally available, extremely safe vaccine knowing your own body could be the factory for a new, even more deadly virus that could kill millions of your fellow human beings. Therefore, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories must be rejected; all of us have a categorical duty to be vaccinated until the pandemic is over…period. (Sorry!)

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