There has been a great deal of controversy in recent weeks in the fortunate countries of the world where citizens have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Many feel it is a violation of their freedom if they are required to be immunized. Such thinking contradicts an important life principle, made clear by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: “Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are vital to a functioning democracy. I cherish these rights as a columnist, but I also recognize my responsibility. I therefore would not publish anything without confirming that my information was accurate.
It is terrifying to see the chaos that has ensued because social influencers are spreading dangerous misinformation. The most recent example is podcast superstar Joe Rogan who touted that young, healthy people need not be vaccinated. After spending time in a COVID hotspot, Rogan himself became afflicted. He quickly retracted his earlier statements saying he was not a medical professional. Indeed, his claim that mRNA-based vaccines are “really gene therapy” would make most biomedical scientists cringe.
Most influencers would agree that government officials need to know that citizens will hold them accountable to the wishes of the people. In this case, however, the vast majority favour health measures which will keep them safe, like vaccine requirements and mask mandates.
The pharmaceutical industry has also done a great deal to undermine public trust. One needs only look at the opioid crisis and the unwillingness of executives to accept accountability. It is thus normal for people to question the safety of their products.
If influencers, the government, and industry cannot be trusted, it is understandable that ordinary citizens would feel confused and uncertain.
Fortunately, there are individuals who can hear our concerns and give us reasonable and objective advice. I see no reason why one would not trust doctors and medical scholars who have nothing to gain from the pharmaceutical industry and do not work for the government. They are people who legitimately want to use their talents for the betterment of humanity and are deeply concerned with the well-being of others. It should be noted that almost without exception, these experts are advising people to get vaccinated and follow mask mandates.
I will admit that I had my suspicions when COVID-19 vaccines were first released. I therefore discussed the pros and cons of getting vaccinated with an expert, someone who knows far more than I do about medical science. The conclusion we came to was yes, there is minor risk in getting vaccinated, but I would be facing much greater danger if I got COVID. I would not only be putting my own health at risk, I would be putting the health of many others in jeopardy as well.
This is not to say that powerful governments and the pharmaceutical industry have become benevolent. It is very clear that they continue to put profit before the well-being of the world’s population. If we want a reason to protest, we need only look at the fact that they are refusing to release patents and fund programs to vaccinate populations in poorer countries. This not only prolongs the COVID-19 crisis, it puts the lives of seven billion people at risk by increasing the chances that new, more deadly variants will develop.
Given that COVID-19 has already killed millions of people and the end of this crisis is still not in view, we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to protect the lives of our neighbours. Yes, we are free, but with freedom comes responsibility. Without responsibility, we not only have chaos, we have a breeding ground for a virus which can potentially mutate and kill millions more around the world.