There has been a great deal of controversy in recent weeks in fortunate countries where citizens have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Many feel it’s a violation of their freedom if they’re required to be immunized.
Such thinking contradicts an important life principle made clear by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. He said, “Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are vital to a functioning democracy. I cherish these rights as a columnist but I also recognize my responsibility. I therefore wouldn’t publish anything without confirming that my information was accurate.
It’s terrifying to see the chaos that has ensued because social influencers are spreading dangerous misinformation. The most recent example is podcast superstar Joe Rogan, who touted that young, healthy people need not be vaccinated. After spending time in a COVID hotspot, Rogan became afflicted. He quickly retracted his earlier statements, saying he wasn’t a medical professional. Indeed, his claim that mRNA-based vaccines are “really gene therapy” would make most biomedical scientists cringe.
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Most influencers would agree that government officials need to know that citizens will hold them accountable to the wishes of the people. In this case, however, the vast majority favour health measures that will keep them safe, like vaccine requirements and mask mandates.
The pharmaceutical industry has also done a great deal to undermine public trust. One needs only look at the opioid crisis and the unwillingness of executives to accept accountability. So it’s normal for people to question the safety of their products.
If influencers, the government and industry can’t be trusted, it’s understandable that ordinary citizens would feel confused and uncertain.
Fortunately, there are individuals who can hear our concerns and give us reasonable and objective advice. I see no reason why we wouldn’t trust doctors and medical scholars who have nothing to gain from the pharmaceutical industry and don’t work for the government. They’re people who legitimately want to use their talents for the betterment of humanity and are deeply concerned with the well-being of others. Almost without exception, these experts are advising people to get vaccinated and follow mask mandates.
I admit I had my suspicions when COVID-19 vaccines were first released. I discussed the pros and cons of getting vaccinated with an expert, someone who knows far more than I do about medical science. The conclusion we came to was: Yes, there’s minor risk in getting vaccinated but I would face much greater danger if I got COVID. I would not only be putting my health at risk, I would be putting the health of many others in jeopardy.
This isn’t to say that powerful governments and the pharmaceutical industry have become benevolent. It’s very clear that they continue to put profit before the well-being of the world’s population. If we want a reason to protest, we need only look at the fact that they’re refusing to release patents and fund programs to vaccinate populations in poorer countries. This not only prolongs the COVID-19 crisis, it puts the lives of seven billion people at risk by increasing the chances that new, more deadly variants will develop.
Given that COVID-19 has already killed millions of people and the end of this crisis is still not in view, we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to protect the lives of our neighbours.
Yes, we’re free. But with freedom comes responsibility. Without responsibility, we not only have chaos, we have a breeding ground for a virus that could mutate and kill millions more around the world.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.
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