At 30 years old, I’ve never bothered to get the influenza vaccine. Coronavirus has shown me that was a bad decision.
Allow me to elaborate. Every year a new flu shot comes around and the pitch is that you should have one because then you’ll be less likely to catch the flu — if you’re older, it’s an even better idea because the effects of the virus can be more brutal the older you are.
Before the pandemic, I — like many others, I suspect — saw the flu as a private issue and more or less just a part of life. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever even had the flu; I tend to have symptoms of a vicious head-cold, but never anything like what influenza is described as. This also factored into my decision not to get the shot.
Overall though, the main reason I never bothered is that it’s time out of my day to do something that’s not really going to effect me personally. I live in America, where you’re expected to either come to work sick or else hope you’ve got sick pay because you’ll be forfeiting it otherwise. People just come into work ill unless they feel so bad that they can hardly get out of bed.
Even before the pandemic we all knew this was stupid and helped to spread the infection, but we also had this sort of collective understanding that it’s just a cold and that happens. Knuckle on through, soldier. The sniffles are hardly a reason not to come into the office, even if it means that everyone else is going to wind up with the sniffles too, and spread it to their families, etc.
Because the flu is generally such a mild inconvenience except in specific demographics, we just acknowledged our fate and got on with things. Thus, it has become a part of our culture that contagious diseases — diseases which could be far more confined with just the slightest bit of effort — are nothing to be concerned about.
What is shocking to me now, though, is just how much none of us cared about each other. While each of us has a cold, it’s our private struggle, the thinking seems to go. If it’s possible to work then you go to work. We simply overlooked the fact that this meant drastically increasing the chances of spreading the illness.
Yes, I know, employers like to talk about how you should stay home to prevent the spread, blah, blah, blah. Does anyone actually believe their boss when they say that? We’ve all been irritated with coworkers who saddle us with extra work because they stay home with a cough. There’s always that one person in the office who’s out once a month for two or three days because they have a cold and we hate that person. They are lazy.
We never really stopped to think that they were doing us a favor, though. Yes, perhaps we had to do our own work and some of theirs just to tread water, but that seems a fair trade when you consider that the alternative is to spend a few days at the office doing your regular duties, except that you feel like absolute garbage. These people who were staying home and appearing “weak” or “lazy” were — whether or not they were just using it as a convenient reason not to toil for the enrichment of their employers — in point of fact actively working to contain the spread of a disease and preventing us from suffering.
True, for most of us the flu or any other cold is little more than a miild to moderate annoyance. We feel like crap for a few days and then we’re back to normal, while watching the ripple effects of contagion spread through the workplace and conveniently dissociating just enough that we don’t realize the idiocy of what we’re doing.
Essentially, we had accepted — individually, and collectively — that catching a cold just happens.
None of us took the mental energy to realize that if everyone who was feeling ill isolated until they felt better, a drastically smaller number of people would have to go through the same feeling of illness. We didn’t think that hey, by self-isolating we could be helping others!
The same flawed logic applies to my ignorant and selfish choice not to be vaccinated for influenza. I have all my other vaccinations — those ones I did because they prevent “big” diseases, ones that we might even wipe out as a species if we all got ourselves inoculated. Flu shots, however, are for hypochondriacs and the elderly. Even if I got a flu shot I’d probably catch some other sort of cold so what’s the point?
Coronavirus has shown me how wrongheaded this is. I can put it very simply:
If I get a flu shot, then not only do I massively decrease the likelihood of catching influenza myself, I drastically reduce the possibility of spreading it to others, who in turn can spread it to others. Not only am I preventing “healthy” people from having an annoying cold for a few days, I’m making it more difficult for the virus to make its way to someone in a vulnerable population who could have serious medical complications that would threaten their life, leave them with long-term consequences, or potentially even die.
All of this reasoning came about because I was thinking about, as are we all, the coronavirus vaccine. More specifically, I was thinking about all the morons who are going to refuse it, and how much I wish it’d just be made mandatory. Your personal beliefs be damned, if it prevents you from harming others, I thought, then your freedom of choice stops there. Every infection is a chance for mutation and a mutated coronavirus means we get to start this whole thing over again. Perhaps you want to take the chances, it probably won’t kill you, but you’re gambling with other people’s lives as well, and that’s not a good way for a society to operate.
Upon having these pious thoughts, I realized that this applies to influenza as well. Personally, I’ll almost definitely be fine if I catch the flu. There’s nothing for me to worry about, so on that basis alone there’s no reason for me to bother going out and getting one.
That’s the same reasoning the people I was just haranguing in my self-righteous diatribe though, so either I’m going to have to suffer the cognitive dissonance there, or I’m going to have to behave in accordance with my principles. I prefer the latter, whenever possible; it’s a personal failing, I know.
Of course, that loops back around, doesn’t it? If I behave according to my principles, should not also those opposed to vaccination be free to behave according to theirs?
Last year that argument carried some weight, but coronavirus has totally deflated it. I used to agree, mostly, that if you are against vaccinations for whatever wonky reason then fine, though I did always emphasize the caveat: you need to vaccinate your children. Why? Because your kids interact with other kids and it’s not fair to the others who did their part in preventing the spread of disease to have to suffer in the event your kid picks something up and spreads it around, as children are wont to do.
At this point I’ve had to expand the schoolyard to the whole of the human population, and frankly that’s wildly apt. As a society we’ve mandated certain rules about what you can do to your own children because even though we may trample on the personal beliefs of someone who wholeheartedly thinks children only learn by being brutalized, we’re more interested in the well-being of the kid. We don’t allow parents to starve their children, because we recognize that parents who do that are simply not fit to raise a child, whether or not it’s their god-given right.
We’ve accepted these encroachments on the personal beliefs and parenting rights of everyone in our society because we are comfortable doing so in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Children can’t defend themselves against an abusive parent, and they can’t just choose to go get the food they need from somewhere else. They are at the mercy of their guardians unless society chooses to intervene on their behalf.
We also make choices, as a society, for children overall. We acknowledge that people under a certain age really aren’t experienced enough in the world to make certain decisions for themselves. Is a 12 year-old mature enough to decide to smoke cigarettes? How about to sign for a mortgage? Nope, so we don’t let them — regardless of what their own personal beliefs on the matter might be.
Thus, clearly, as a society we are comfortable with the concept of ignoring the deeply-held personal beliefs of others, in cases where those personal beliefs are injurious to others.
Previously I had been operating under the reasoning that this sort of thing mostly applied to parents and minors, but it turns out that actually society needs a mommy and daddy to make choices for it, too.
When left to our own devices, as adults we’ve made a pig’s breakfast of the coronavirus pandemic. Look at the state of things! And do you know what the problem is? It’s that quite clearly a large number of adults simply can’t be bothered to make good decisions. Whether it’s because they’re too immature, too uneducated, or too selfish is up for discussion, but it’s also irrelevant. Regardless of the reasons, the result is still that people have allowed this pandemic to get out of hand because they are not making smart choices.
So, I guess we’ll have to do the same thing to grown-ups as we’ve been doing to children. Since adults can’t seem to comprehend that their actions have consequences that may not directly effect themselves, but are nevertheless harmful to those around them, we’ll just have to have the playground monitor step in and nip things in the bud. The coronavirus vaccine, and to a larger extent all vaccinations deemed safe by the relevant medical and scientific authorities, are going to have to become mandatory.
In the meantime, while that legislation is dying in congress, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
It doesn’t stop there though. As I mentioned, this applies to all vaccines.
As responsible adults, let’s take this pandemic as a learning opportunity. Where previously we thought about “me” in every case of contagious illness, let’s start thinking about those around us as well.
This pandemic got out of hand because we were applying the same old selfish reasoning we’ve been accustomed to to a new and deadlier disease. “If it’s not going to kill me then it isn’t a problem and I’ll just get through it.” While this stoicism may have seemed wonderful a year ago, it is clear now that this was a mistake. Every time we allow ourselves to spread an illness, we are being harmful. Perhaps only very slightly in a direct sense, but the nature of contagion means one direct interaction will lead to many indirect interactions, and so on, and so on …
We all acknowledge that the coronavirus is more deadly than other diseases, which is why it is so dire. That sense of urgency makes it easier for most of us to simply accept that getting the vaccination helps us to not only protect ourselves from the virus, but to contain its spread and thereby to prevent others who are vulnerable from dealing with more serious — in many cases dire — consequences.
I propose that we extend that reasoning to all the other vaccinations we may have been skipping based on faulty logic simply because they only prevented illnesses that, to us individually, were less drastic. As we can see from the pandemic, this thinking means we increase the spread, and every increase in the infection means a higher likelihood that it will reach someone who may not be as able to deal with the illness as we are ourselves.
So yeah, I’m scheduling an appointment to go get a flu shot. Overall, it’ll probably eat up about two hours of my life. It’s annoying and I hate it but I can’t sit here and be internally inconsistent in my philosophy.
The flu isn’t going to kill me. If I catch it and spread it though, it might well kill someone else. Two hours of my time seems a reasonable exchange for the tiny contribution to the reduction of harm that the spread of influenza would cause if I weren’t otherwise vaccinated — not to mention the reduction to my own annoyance should I manage to contract it.
Thus, I’m getting the vaccination not because I think it’s virtuous but because knowing what I know now, everybody benefits from that decision, and so doing it is kind of a no-brainer.
I encourage you to get yours as well. Because again, if we all take some small steps to reduce the spread of diseases, we can make things better for everyone, not just ourselves. That’s what society is all about, right?