One of the most frustrating contradictions of our time is that we have it within our collective power to end the COVID epidemic, and yet we have chosen, collectively, not to do so. The COVID vaccine stands as one of the great medical achievements of our lifetime. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective; there is a clear inverse correlation between an area’s vaccination rates and COVID infection rates, and yet a third of Coloradans have chosen not to avail themselves of this extraordinary vaccine.
I personally favor a vaccine mandate to end this pandemic. I think many people privately favor a mandate, but fear the backlash to such a proposal. Even the idea of requiring masks in schools has been met with school board recall elections and threats of violence, and so people stay silent.
Silence is wrong. The conspiracy theorists have not been silent. That is the whole problem to begin with. Those with the least understanding of the pandemic, or immunology, have had the loudest voice in the conversation, and are currently controlling the course of the pandemic. They fear a tyranny of doctors and government, but the truth is we live with a different tyranny today: a Tyranny of the Ignorant.
In their arguments against a mask mandate, a number of free-market thinkers have asked why vaccinated people should be so keen to impose their will on the unvaccinated. After all, if you’ve already had your shots, what’s it to you if someone chose differently? I see two main reasons.
First, it’s incorrect that the unvaccinated person is only deciding for themselves. In Colorado, over 90% of COVID cases are the unvaccinated. Our hospitals are overwhelmed, to the point that Governor Polis has ordered a halt to cosmetic and elective procedures. ICUs have had to triage those with life-threatening health issues, because beds are already occupied with COVID patients. Furthermore, those who die of COVID, or are scarred for life from complications, affect the lives of spouses, children, siblings, friends, and coworkers, a ripple effect far beyond one individual.
Second, the only way to end this pandemic is the near-absolute eradication of the virus through near-universal vaccination. A large population of unvaccinated people gives the virus time and space to continue infecting people, and to mutate into more contagious forms. Half-measures will not stop the Coronavirus.
If you’re hesitant about a mandate, you may want to learn about the story of Grafton, New Hampshire. In 2004, a large group of libertarians moved to rural New Hampshire to set up a 100% free society: no laws, no taxes, no regulations. Things went well for a few weeks, until the bears came. There were no rules about trash collection in Grafton, so most residents just dumped their trash into the woods. Soon Grafton was the site of New Hampshire’s first bear attacks in a hundred years.
A free society, where people can disagree, can only stand on a large foundation of consensus.
Nicholas Bernhard of Lafayette is the author of the historical novel “November in America,” based on the Colorado coal miners’ strike of 1927. He also directed the Colorado true-crime documentary “Blackstone’s Equation: The Tim Masters Story.”