Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Are You Part of the Problem? Or Part of the Solution

An Orthodox Jew getting vaccinated (CNBC)
Sometimes I wish America was ruled by fascism. Well… not really. I cherish the freedom this great American democracy grants me and all other citizens. But there is one area that I wish there was a fascist regime: COVID vaccinations. If I had the power I would require everyone in the US to get vaccinated or stay home until they do. With stiff fines for violators. Unless there is a valid medical reason for an exemption, I would brook no violations of this law.

One might ask why an individual should not have the right to choose not to vaccinate?  Is not the right to do with one’s body an inalienable American right? 

The answer is No. The reason for which is not rocket science. People are still dying from COVID. The vast majority of them are unvaccinated. But not all. A former member of my Daf Yomi – a gentle and kind soul - contracted the disease a few weeks ago and is now on a ventilator. This despite the fact that he received a 3rd booster shot. He has a underlying condition that weakened his immune system. The vaccine was not effective enough on him to give him the protection it gives the vast majority of us that are basically healthy.

Personal choice is not a right when it has a negative impact on others. COVID is still here doing irreparable damage to so many vulnerable people. That so many people refuse to get vaccinated is the reason why.  They are in essence currently responsible for the people that get sick from COVID and die. 

If there was ever a reason to mandate the vaccine and remove a little bit of freedom from the American system of democracy, this is it. How dare anyone assert their ‘right’ to freedom when the lives of others are at stake?! 

Although not an exact analogy, being anti vaccine is tantamount to causing a human stampede that can trample and kill people by yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Why shouldn’t you be able to yell whatever you want wherever you want in a free country? Because your freedom stops at my door. In a just society personal freedom cannot come at the expense of someone else’s freedom. Especially in cases with dangerous results. Is there anything more dangerous worldwide than the COVID pandemic? How many more people have to die before everyone realizes it?

This is why I get upset at ‘geniuses’ like Green Bay quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. When a superstar athlete says he did not get vaccinated because he ‘did his research’ and found ‘scientific’ reasons not to vaccinate... and then says that it’s his body and his right... that is irresponsible to say the least! It encourages the anti-vaxxers to stand their ground.  

What is troubling to me is the reasons that are given by the anti-vaxxers in the Orthodox Jewish community. And by anti-vaxxers, I include not only the rabid antivaxxers but even those who are  reluctant to get it based on bad information. Even now when the evidence for its safety and effectiveness is greater than ever. And even if there was any truth to those claims (which there is not) these people are being selfish by prolonging the pandemic. They helping to prevent the herd immunity that would defeat this disease. Thereby endangering people like my friend who is now on a ventilator.  

This brings me to an article in the Jewish Press by Aryeh Werth. He listed some of the ‘reasons’ why some some Orthodox Jews are antivaxxers.

With so many Orthodox Jews looking at the Republican Party as their new ‘Daas Torah’ it doesn’t help matters that this is the party that seems to be placing personal freedom above public health. 

There is all the misinformation they rely upon as ‘truth’. Like vaccines  cause paralysis, cardiac arrest, or fertility problems. 

There is the misunderstanding about fast track approval compromising the data from clinical trials. What they fail to understand is that fast-tracking was enabled by cutting red tape. And the the data collected was as reliable as was data collected in past clinical trials that took much longer. Furthermore there is real life data by now that shows vaccines to be safe and effective for millions of people all over the world that have been vaccinated.  

There is the false belief that herd immunity already exists in the own community making the vaccines unnecessary. It eludes them that there do not live in a bubble and will inevitably come into contact with people outside of their community that do not have anywhere near herd immunity. 

Some of these anti-vaxxeers simply don’t trust the secular government at all  and ignore what public health officials say.

And finally there are some antivax rabbis they rely on.

All of these reasons are pure unadulterated nonsense. The fact is that the vast majority of rabbis of any stature from the widest spectrum of Orthodoxy are in favor of getting vaccinated. From  Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef to YU’s Rav Hershel Schachter.

The two most prominent Orthodox organizations, Agudah and the OU are also in favor of it.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed at Agudah’s refusal to express their ‘Daas Torah’ on this. This is what Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran said: 

We don’t take positions on medical issues, leaving that to medical authorities and people in consultation with their doctors. 

How sad. They will take positions on all manner of public interest to the Jewish community. But on health issues they leave it up to the individual?!  ...knowing the benefits to the the community at large?! 

They are in effect facilitating antivaxxers to extend the pandemic. Which may cause some people to actually die. If there was ever a time for ‘Daas Torah’ to come out with a proclamation - this is it. They should require everyone to get vaccinated no less than requiring computers and smartphones to be filtered. Public health should be a least as important as that.  In my view their reluctance to do this just contributes to the problem.

Of course those few Orhtodox Jews that are antivaxxers are not alone. The vast majority of antivaxxers are not even Jewish – let alone Orthodox. Even if every Orhtodx Jew in America would  get vaccinated, we still wouldn’t have herd immunity.

But that is no excuse. Every Jew has to do his part. Either you are part of the solution or part of the problem. If you are dumb enough to not get vaccinated, you part of the problem. And may be - at least in part - responsible for of innocent people dying from COVID. Maybe even be someone in your own family. 

Off my soapbox.