I am responding to Thursday’s front page piece, “Board opposes vaccine mandates.”
I am reminded of an observation by The Southern agrarian writer Wendell Barry that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast ought to be complimented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
We are a year and a half into a pandemic, and local thought leaders remain stuck on the mistaken notion that opinions of personal liberty are something the virus cares about. The virus doesn’t care what you think. The virus simply wants to meet your friends.
What is missing is leadership that understands what “public” means in public health. Advanced democracies that think more about collective responses to collective issues have universal testing and tracing, open to anyone, free and with results in real time. They have lower incidences of infection than those countries (like ours) who think individualistically over against systemically and collectively.
Recently, I have advocated for universal testing and tracing by calling the offices of state Sen. Patty Ritchie, state Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush and state Assemblyman Mark Walczyk. I also have contacted my Jefferson County legislator, Jeremiah Maxon, as well as the chair of the legislators’ Health and Human Services Committee, John Peck.
Everyone seemed to see the importance of a robust testing and tracing effort. But nothing has changed.
John Peck is quoted as saying that people understand risks and understand what will happen if they don’t take the vaccine. No, they don’t.
Routinely, reports appear of people who shunned masks and inoculation who are battling COVID-19 from hospital beds, who *now* believe that they should have chosen a different course.
How many survivors of loved ones who died believing “You can’t tell me what to do” are living with sorrow and regret?
A smallpox outbreak in New York City in 1947 was met with a robust mandate from Mayor William O’Dwyer.
Within two weeks, 5 million people were inoculated, two-thirds of the entire city’s population.
Virtually everyone else was inoculated soon thereafter.
There were no lawsuits, no riots, no opposition.
A month later, the epidemic was declared over.
In 1950, the peak year for polio deaths, 3,000 children died and 35,000 were left disabled.
No one in those years argued that they would allow their child to contract the polio virus and see what happens.
Rather, people lionized Dr. Jonas Salk for his gift to the world, something he refused to patent.
He said, “How can you patent the sun?”
Kudos to Legislator Michael Montigelli, who got it right.
Where else might we look for leadership that understands why a collective response is the only responsible way to challenge a collective risk?
Douglas H. Ort
The writer is a licensed mental health counselor.