I thought I had successfully handled her questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccination. “Surely they were developed too quickly to be safe,” she had insisted. I explained how scientists had been working on this kind of vaccine since the SARS epidemic a decade ago and needed only to make some tweaks to fit the new virus. No go!
Her body language shouted a definite not buying it. “But why?” I asked. Arms folded across her chest and chin pushed forward, she replied, “People have been telling me what I can and cannot do all my life. I’m tired of it. It’s my choice.”
Absolute free choice is a myth, but we do reserve the right to be free to the extent our behavior and choices do not impinge on the rights of others. In those circumstances, we give up some freedom to in order to enhance our freedom from. For example, drinking and driving is restricted in order to enhance others’ freedom from potential accidents. It took decades and a coalition of activists, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, to give the idea teeth and make it law. In the meantime, we cajole, educate, and beg to get people to make similar decisions about drugs and pregnancy, automatic weapons, cigarettes, vaping, and now Covid-19 vaccinations.
I also know that, even in a free society, choice is relative to your situation. The more resources you have, the more choices you have. Simple math. My public health team and I were sitting in the over-stuffed common room of a battered women’s shelter. A dozen kids ran around grabbing snacks and asking us questions. The director, and owner of this private shelter, had made vaccination mandatory for residents. She had contacted our outreach program to schedule an on-site event. One by one, we cajoled five of the six eligible residents to take their first dose of Moderna. They nervously protested a bit, like many folks we have been vaccinating, after hearing the recent news about J&J; some were just plain scared of needles. Because they felt they either had no choice, or actually believed it was the right thing to do, they filled out the consent form, rolled up their sleeves, and took the shot.
I’m hoping that our one resister changes her mind and chooses to be vaccinated. Maybe she’ll relent when we return to administer the second dose in twenty-eight days. And although I want her to do it for herself, for her community, for all of us—I get it. Her anger and resentment at not having a choice is deep, palpable, and real.
Lesson for the day: None of us has free choice, and many of us have no choice.
The Myth of Choice
Your heart beats,
You draw breath,
Your blood flows.
All automatically, without conscious choice. Even nature leaves nothing up to choice.