The Divide Over Vaccination and Mask Mandates Belies a More Troubling Disease

Over the last two years there have been numerous stories about individuals and groups either refusing to be vaccinated, or wear masks in public spaces. Or both. The common cry is that these temporary impositions are an assault on personal choice, and freedom. But what really underlies these protests is a more disturbing condition that has been developing in societies across the globe — and particularly in America — for decades: a shift away from concern and consideration for others and toward an obsession with only doing what serves oneself.

Looking back over three-quarters of a century ago, during World War II, America was arguably at its peak of selflessness, with tens of thousands of young men volunteering to risk their lives for the freedom of Europeans they did not even know. Women and children, too, joined the cause, manning factories to produce the supplies necessary to support the effort. What mattered to them was not whether their actions served them, personally, but that others were at risk and they could do something to help.

Fast forward to today, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 5 million people have died already from the virus — almost 1 million in America — and despite consensus (at least among well-informed people) that vaccination and wearing masks stifles the spread of the virus, there are those who refuse to participate in the effort to eradicate it.

The science is simple, and without serious controversy: to stop a novel virus that attacks human biology from continuing to prosper, the human immune system must learn how to defend itself against that virus, and that defense must be widespread throughout society such that the virus eventually can no longer thrive because too many of its potential hosts have learned how to defend themselves against it. Defense is learned through immunity, and immunity is gained when the immune system recognizes the novel virus when it is encountered and can thus do what the immune system does naturally: defend the body against severe damage from it. There are two ways the human immune system can learn how to recognize a novel virus: either by contracting the virus itself, or being taught what the virus looks like via a vaccine.

Putting aside the tiresome arguments about whether vaccines are safe (they are), what underlies a decision to not get vaccinated, or wear a mask in public, is simple selfishness. It is a disregard for one’s responsibility to do no harm to others in society.

Take the recent blockade by truckers of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, at the border between Canada and the United States. The truckers claimed that Canada’s vaccine mandate imposed on them was too much to bear, and the imposition to their personal choice justified them blocking a major trade route between the two countries, disrupting a locality for a week, and costing local businesses millions of dollars. There was never a consideration of these costs, and the imposition to others; what mattered to the truckers was that they did not care to get a jab in the arm that would help protect others from a potentially deadly virus.

And that is the larger problem that is revealed in the divide between those who are willing to get a vaccine in order to finally eradicate a deadly virus that has caused widespread health and economic destruction for almost two years, and those who are not willing. Selflessness versus selfishness.

We no longer live in isolated tribes, where individual decisions may impact the tribe only. We live in societies. And being a member of a society imposes a responsibility to conduct oneself with the greater interest in mind. That means sacrificing personal beliefs when those beliefs can cause harm to others.

Unfortunately, that kind of selflessness appears to be all but lost among many in society today. We live in the time of “me.” A time when people do what serves them, at the expense of others. A time when a virus that could have been but a memory by now had everyone come together to eradicate it continues to persist. And that is the unfortunate truth — the more troubling disease — that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed about us.

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