At times during World War II, London was bombed every night. So Londoners were asked to black out their homes at night to prevent enemy bombers from identifying targets. Surely that made life difficult for some, especially the elderly. But few Londoners complained that the resulting inconvenience was an abrogation of their freedom or rights, because they knew that they were doing it for the greater good.
When I was in my teens, we the citizens of Mumbai, India, had to black out our homes during a war for the same reason. If you did not — in addition to the police — street vigilantes were ready to call you out.
Why? Because you weren’t just endangering yourself, you were endangering the lives of citizens around you. Living in a civilized society precludes us from indulging in activities that can hurt other people, referred to as a “negative externality.” That is why we do not have the freedom to drive our cars at 120 mph.
COVID-19 is similar in that it is our enemy that is looking for target-rich environments, which are unvaccinated people. As a doctor succinctly puts it: Viruses mutate for a living. That means that we could have new more virulent variants that the vaccines might not be able to stop. So, then what? We already have the delta variant and now the lambda variant. It will be too late by the time we have the omega variant.
And like everything else these days, it has become political. About 85 percent of adult Democrats have taken at least one dose of the vaccine, while only about 50 percent of Republicans have done so. Some say that they don’t trust the science or that the risks are too high or that the pandemic is a hoax. Why? Because Tucker Carlson and other virtuosos of quackery told you so? Tens of millions have taken the vaccine without incurring significant side effects. Historically, the vast majority of vaccine side effects occur not long after getting the shot, according to a Johns Hopkins University doctor.
Our current governor, never missing a chance for self-promotion, is now peddling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” stickers. This, even as Florida is recording more COVID cases than any other state and accounts for fully one in five new cases. Hospitalizations in some areas are increasing at the fastest rate since the start of the pandemic. So what can be done?
First, private and public sector employers should require their employees be vaccinated. Those who refuse to get vaccinated or disclose their status should be subject to termination. Florida is an at-will state, meaning employers can terminate employment at any time with or without cause. To incentivize employers, the federal government should refuse to award contracts to companies not adopting this policy.
Second, pass a law that allows hospitals to refuse admittance to those who are COVID positive, not vaccinated and do not have adequate insurance or proof of funds to pay for it themselves. They wouldn’t be required to refuse service, but they would be allowed to. Exceptions can be made for those with underlying conditions that make vaccinations risky. Harsh as these policies may sound, though times call for tough measures. It would be far less harsh than a resurgence of the virus or a more virulent variant that would kill even more people.
Third, do not provide incentives to the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. It could create a problem in the future in that people might delay taking preventive measures with the hope that delaying will compensate them.
Fourth, the government should sue purveyors of false vaccine information. Freedom does not entitle you the scream “fire” in a crowded theater. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said, “We probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now.” Some conservatives at a recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting applauded the news that President Joe Biden did not achieve his goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by July 4.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face is not good policy.
Murad Antia teaches finance at the Muma College of Business, University of South Florida in Tampa.