Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Our communal institutions, including schools, shuls and sports leagues, either require COVID vaccines for participation or impose restrictions, such as masks, on those who are unvaccinated. This approach arguably made sense during the first few months after vaccines became available, as the data showed Pfizer and Moderna to be over 90% effective in preventing COVID infection. Based on this preliminary data, vaccinated individuals were far less likely to catch and transmit the COVID virus. It therefore seemed that widespread vaccination within the community could result in herd immunity similar to vaccinations against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella.

However, it soon became apparent that the protection against infection provided by vaccines largely wore off within six months—Israel is now experimenting with a fourth shot—and vaccines were somewhat less effective at preventing infection by the delta variant. Omicron has quickly eclipsed delta and is estimated by the CDC to currently account for over 98% of infections in the U.S. Protection from infection by omicron provided by vaccines goes to zero very quickly, even turning negative three months after the second dose.

As Luc Montagnier, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering HIV, pointed out in The Wall Street Journal on January 10, “data from Denmark and the Canadian province of Ontario indicate that vaccinated people have higher rates of omicron infection than unvaccinated people.” This should not come as a surprise to anyone, as we’ve been witnessing scores of fully vaccinated people all around us contract omicron over the past month.

Given the current data, there is no longer any justification for communal institutions to require vaccines or distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. While the data show that vaccination may result in milder symptoms for individuals infected with omicron, this is a personal decision that does not affect anyone other than the individual and their family. While some may insist that everyone should get the COVID vaccine to reduce the burden on medical facilities, it is not the role of our communal institutions to determine the appropriate tradeoffs between individual liberties and overall societal goals. Communal institutions have no basis to push vaccines when unvaccinated individuals do not put anyone else at greater risk of catching the virus (and in fact, vaccinated individuals may put others at greater risk based on the most recent data).

It is a core American value that a person’s medical decisions are nobody’s business but their own. Perhaps the nature of the prior COVID variants required an exception as we all knew people who were hospitalized or died. However, that rationale no longer holds true as omicron is far more vaccine-resistant and far less deadly.

The risk of COVID will never go to zero, but it is already at a comparable level to the flu and other nasty winter infections that we have been living with our entire lives. (Interestingly enough, many communal institutions that require a COVID vaccine don’t require a flu vaccine.) We must cease excluding and restricting people from communal life simply because they made medical decisions we may disagree with. It is time for our communal institutions to return to normal and withdraw the rules related to COVID vaccines.

David Gulko
Fair Lawn
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