Omicron, the new variant of COVID is so contagious that it has quickly swept the country. It is qualitatively more contagious than any earlier variant. Now that the vaccine is available to even children, and booster shots are so readily available in America, it’s time to discountenance those who choose not to vaccinate. What’s reassuring is how the vaccine gives the body a fighting chance to survive COVID infection. That’s the important thing even though I do worry about my colleagues, and other front line hospital medical personnel. They are so weary from having to respond to COVID cases. I am concerned too about those already-vaccinated people seeking medical services at the hospital yet are forced out from having medical attention because some unvaccinated got knocked down by COVID.
Perhaps, an effective strategy to persuade the unvaccinated to change their behavior will be to allow hospitals and medical insurance companies to charge astronomical prices for COVID-related services. They engage in risky behavior. People respond to anything cost-related—from the very rich to the very poor. That’s a universal human motivator. So much for rugged individualism and self-reliance.
We would have had real mandate with more teeth in it by now. I can see the push back—that even some health care professionals don’t necessarily endorse vaccination but will get vaccinated if ordered to by their employer. But sometimes we just need that extra little push—most people with jobs want to hang onto them. Vaccines have been mandated for decades. It is terrible that we have reached this point though. How can we solve any problems as a nation when we cannot do something that should be simple.
Vaccine skepticism stems, in part from messages on social media and conservative outlets like Fox News, and talk radio? Yes, they trust untrustworthy sources like the mini demagogues in the media, who play off each other in a crescendo of disinformation and harmful propaganda. The fact that many of those pundits are vaccinated themselves would make a pro-vaccine message from them even stronger but they don’t want to, because of the financial rewards.
As a medical doctor, I am sometimes confronted as to why is it that you can still get COVID even if you are vaccinated. No one is denying that. But here is the thing, if you are vaccinated you are much less likely to end up in the ICU on a ventilator. All those COVID patients are taking up ICU space and ventilators and making it hard for car accident victims, cancer patients, and others to get care—96-98% of them are not vaccinated by choice.
So we need better and bigger sticks. Mandatory weekly testing and enforced quarantine if you turn up a positive test. If you are fired because of your refusal to get vaccinated, then no unemployment for you. If you are not vaccinated and get so sick with COVID that you need hospitalization, you are top of the list to be turned out of that ICU bed if someone who needs the bed more and has a better chance of a good outcome shows up needing it. Plus, like smokers, you will need to pay your insurance extra “anti-vaxx” premium.
Basically, I want people who could be vaccinated but choose not to “because of Freedom” to really hurt because of that choice. We bear the cost of COVID collectively. There is no getting around it. I don’t like the idea of making these freeloaders suffer a higher death rate in our medical facilities. It might be morally just, but it’s still revolting to the conscience. If strict mandates can help us avoid this, let’s use them. I don’t like to have the resentment of these people on my conscience, but I’d rather have that than their deaths.
The problem is the emphasis on individual choice, since in American culture, many citizens value individual choice over the common good. Then, why not give people the freedom of informed choice with no pressure at all to get vaccinated? “Everyone can make the decision that’s right for them”, goes this line of thinking. Well, that’s not the way that contagious disease work- you are making the choice for your neighbor too. That same freedom of choice should also be given to health care insurers, so they are not required to pay for any COVID-related treatment for the unvaccinated. Exceptions would apply for those who cannot get vaccinated for health reasons. If someone wants to take an obvious risk that could lead to a $100K date with a ventilator, be my guest, but don’t stick the rest of us with the bill.
If people really got to “own” their vaccination choice (all of it) we might see the numbers change, or not, but at least there would be some integrity in all of this.
Dr. Osmond Ekwueme, MD
Medical & Policy Analyst