Freedom

Written by
Michael Wells

Freedom

Reflections on the Right NOT to Vaccinate

Written by
Michael Wells

Freedom

Reflections on the Right NOT to Vaccinate

Written by
Michael Wells
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QUESTION

It’s October 2021, and the city of Auckland, New Zealand is at war with the Delta variant of COVID-19.

Community cases are on the rise. Managed isolation facilities (MIQs) are overflowing, and on the whole, Aucklanders are really struggling with the situation.

  • We’re exhausted, and sick of isolation.
  • The weather is getting better and we want to go to the beach.
  • We’re lonely, and desperate to see our friends.
  • And maybe even go on a date.

We just want it to go away.

Our government, meanwhile, has basically announced that Auckland will remain in lockdown until we hit a “90% vaccinated” target.

And that has ruffled a lot of feathers.

We feel like our personal freedoms are being taken away. We feel pressured to vaccinate, even if we’re uncomfortable with the idea.

To us as individuals, it feels like a no-win situation...

If we choose to vaccinate, there’s a small risk of adverse health impacts, and we can possibly get COVID anyway.

If we choose NOT to vaccinate, Auckland will be in lockdown forever, and we worry about discrimination. Maybe unvaccinated people won’t be allowed to travel, or maybe our kids can’t go to school. 

And, like all situations in which we feel trapped, or threatened, we feel anger.

Who gets our anger?

In New Zealand, it’s our prime minister, Jacinda. 

The purpose of a democratic government is to maximize the freedom of its people to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

With an infectious disease on the loose, that gets complicated, because the question government officials are confronted with is this-

“How do we maximize the individual freedom of everyone in our society, at the same time?
  • We want to protect Bob’s right to choose whether he gets vaccinated or not.
  • And, we want to protect Mary’s right to go grocery shopping without getting COVID.

Scale that problem up to a city of nearly 2 million people, and throw in the complications of cultural differences, constantly changing medical guidance, and a biological enemy that keeps mutating.

Frankly, the situation sucks.

There is no decision that will make everyone 100% happy, healthy, and safe, all at the same time.

I wouldn’t want to be Jacinda right now.

I’m pretty sure that some days, Jacinda doesn’t want to be Jacinda right now.

The meaning of Freedom

For the past 6 days, I've been sitting here in quarantine due to an irresponsible neighbor, I've been thinking about these problems a lot this week.

I've been thinking COVID, vaccines, society and our future, and why I feel so uncomfortable by the pressure to get the vaccine.

And that's lead me to reflect deeply on one of my core values, freedom.

Here's what I've learned

In our modern view, Freedom means having the right to do as we choose. 

If I live in a free society, I expect the right to make decisions about my life, my body, and my property with no interference from others.

  • I am allowed to say what I want
  • I am allowed to eat what I want.
  • I am allowed to smoke if I want to.
  • I am allowed drink alcohol if I want to.

I can choose to get rip-roaring drunk, to the point I can barely walk... if I want to, and no one will stop me.

Because I am free.

It’s great living in a free society.

But here’s the thing. Living in a free society means that everyone gets freedom.

Me, and you, and that guy over there... all of us are free, and all of our rights need to be protected equally.

I have the right to drink until I’m falling over, and you equally have the right to drive home safely without me crashing into you.

Living is a society changes the freedom equation.

If I lived alone on a remote island, no one would care if I’m stone drunk, driving around like a mad man. I can crash into anything I want, and no one will care.

But when I’m in a society-

I’m free to drink, and I’m free to drive... but I am not free to drive drunk.

Living in a free society means that there is continually a negotiation of freedoms always taking place.

My freedoms, versus yours.

Any good bartender knows this. He would take away your car keys as you stumble towards your car, because he knows that protecting people is more important than you getting to drive home.

He could be saving lives....

Yours included.

Freedom is a moving target

When COVID first hit, I got into a great discussion with a friend online. She was angry that Jacinda had “let COVID in” to NZ.

In her view...

  • International travel should have been stopped earlier.
  • We should have locked down faster.
  • Masks should be mandatory.

In light of the current social climate, I find that hilarious. My friend was angry because we had too much individual freedom - more than she felt was safe for society as a whole. 

And at the start of COVID, a lot of people felt that way.

Now we’re complaining that we have too little personal freedom.

Funny, that.

It also happens that my friend grew up in China, where the political mindset is different.

I pointed out that in Western countries, we prioritize freedom and self-responsibility. We refuse to restrict personal freedom, until there is no other choice.

Nothing has changed.

New Zealand’s government has refused to restrict personal freedom unless - on the very best scientific and medical guidance available - they felt it was absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of New Zealanders.

I sure don’t enjoy lockdowns, but I can fully appreciate their importance.

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate, that is the question

Personally, I found the vaccine decision very difficult.

I’m no different from anyone.

When I was presented with the option to vaccinate, I watched closely, with all the same concerns as everyone else.

  • Whoa that seems really fast, is it properly tested?
  • How do I know it’s safe? Maybe I should take a watch-and-wait approach to this.
  • Do I really need it? I feel pretty healthy and my immune system is pretty awesome.
  • Is it effective? I hear you can still get COVID anyway, and you can even still potentially infect others. What’s the point?
  • Besides... if I did get COVID, I’d probably survive it. Is the vaccine worth the risk?

And so I held off.

In my head, I rationalized my hesitation. “Other people need it more, let them go first.” But really, some part of me was thinking... 

“I don’t want to be a guinea pig. Let’s wait and see what happens. If I wait long enough, maybe I can avoid it.”

All of these questions and concerns have been bouncing around in my head, for months now. Together they cooked up a nice stew of procrastination that kept me from making a solid decision either way.

Making a choice

Now we’re in lockdown, and desperate for a way out.

Some of us are queuing up in the vaccine lines, while others are holding back, declaring that they despite the situation, they still don't want the vaccine.

NZ's government is still supporting that freedom, because we’re a free society, and we protect freedom. 

Period.

But here’s the problem. Whose freedom should we protect?

  • Should we protect the rights of those who want to run around unmasked, and unvaccinated?
  • Or should we protect those who want to be able to go safely to the beach, do their grocery shopping, and send their kids to school?

Because the reality of COVID is, we can’t have both.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this reality.

But once I arrived to that understanding, I realized the choice was quite simple. This wasn't a question of my personal freedom, or my concerns about the vaccine, or my dislike of needles...

It was simply a question of "do I like being part of this society, or not?"

Because if I do, I have a responsibility to protect the freedom of others, equally to my own.

I got my first jab about 10 days ago and unexpectedly, I’m actually looking forward to my second jab... 

Because I’ve decided it’s the right decision.

Afterword/s

I enjoy a good night at the pub now and then, and once in a rare while I might even enjoy getting a bit wrecked. It can be fun to stumble about for an evening with your friends.

But I never want to threaten others by driving drunk. 

There is just no reason for me to endanger the lives of others, just because I want the “personal freedom” to do as I choose.

Living unvaccinated, in a COVID world, is driving drunk.

By all accounts, I think Jacinda has been an awesome bartender. She’s done a phenomenal job of creating a place that is as safe and comfortable as possible in this situation.

That’s no mean feat, when it’s a pub of 4 million people, in the middle of a war zone.

I love the fact that we’re still free to make our own individual choices about the vaccine. But at the same time, I hope to see a big wave of self-responsibility.

It’s more crucial than ever that we wrap our heads around this reality-

Our individual personal freedoms must consider - and respect - the personal freedoms of those around us.

Jacinda has still allowed us to hold on to our car keys, because she trusts our sense of self-responsibility.

Be worthy of that trust.

Looking to the future

Where COVID is concerned, we pray we will never see a worse strain than Delta, but we must be prepared for that possibility.

It’s happened before.

Being prepared mentally and emotionally, is where it starts.

Our global population is about to hit 8 billion. Modern life means big cities and dense populations, so here's our modern reality...

Being together is a part of what got us into this problem.
Working together is what will get us out.

Let's crush this thing.

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First published on 
. Last updated on 
October 25, 2021

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