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Civil Liberties: Convincing People to Use COVID-19 Vaccines

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

Whether to get vaccinations or not has long been a matter of discussion. There have been many reasons for the rise of the anti-vaxx movement, including the misconception that vaccines are directly connected to autism. While autism is certainly a serious health concern, studies have shown that there really isn’t a connection between vaccines and autism.

With the rise of COVID-19 cases and the concerns regarding new variants of COVID-19, the issue of getting vaccines has arisen again. Some members of the public remain skeptical about whether they should get the vaccines to protect themselves.

To prevent further infections, many organizations and governments are reacting by requiring people to get vaccinated. Certainly, there are a lot of health concerns at stake. But with all of the discussion about civil liberties, where do we draw the line about what’s best for individuals versus the health of the U.S. population?

Getting Vaccinated vs. Maintaining Civil Liberties

We’ve all heard the discussions about making our own decisions regarding our own bodies. We have the freedom to decide which physician to see, what surgical procedures we want to do and what medications to take.

Libertarians believe that citizens should be able to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to their own health. This way of thinking is valid, especially since medical professionals can be wrong sometimes and medical mistakes do happen.

But we also know that COVID-19 – and especially its Delta variant – is incredibly contagious. We have also learned that COVID-19 affects individuals differently, which makes COVID-19 more difficult for public health and emergency management professionals to control.

Emergency management and public health resources are finite, and this restriction in resources has created serious problems in the U.S. public health system. Some hospitals around the country, for instance, are running out of beds in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Similarly, nurses, doctors and other public health employees are getting sick with COVID-19, which makes it harder for hospitals to properly treat all of their patients.

Understanding the public resistance against vaccinations, some organizations have changed their policies and now only allow vaccinated individuals into buildings such as restaurants and workplaces. By implementing such policies, they’re forcing individuals to get COVID-19 vaccines.

While these policies are intended to benefit the greater good, how do they impact civil liberties? What about individual rights?

Creating Policies That Work and Improving Public Education

Some scholars argue that implementing new policies can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach,  because there will always be exceptions to the rule. Some children and adults, for example, can’t get vaccinated because they have medical issues that would make getting the COVID-19 vaccine unsafe. But at the same time, we have finite resources to manage this pandemic and simply can’t risk having everyone go without vaccinations.

Policy makers should consider using the same tactic that many public health professionals take: educating the public about COVID-19 vaccinations and the effect that resisting vaccinations is having on our health system. The shortage of available ICU beds, for example, can be tricky for some people to understand unless they’re actually inside a hospital.

More public education must happen and more people need to feel confident about using vaccines to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. There can be a balance between maintaining civil liberties and protecting the health of society.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and the Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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