Opinion: Choosing not to vaccinate is a personal choice, not a civil right

It is a mistake to think of the choice not to vaccinate against the coronavirus as anything more than an individual decision. Elevating this choice by providing special legal status sets a bad precedent. Classes share a common, trait such as race, sex or disability. The only shared trait for people who choose not to vaccinate is their decision to say no.

The Department of Health and Human Services defines a civil right as personal rights guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws enacted by Congress, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Civil rights include protection from unlawful discrimination. These civil rights protect groups who are harmed or harassed by laws, practices or policies that discriminate against them because of a shared characteristic.

There are many reasons a person may choose not to become vaccinated. Recently published surveys indicate that some evaluate the risk to themselves from the coronavirus as minimal, providing little incentive. Others fear what the vaccine might do to one’s body. Still, others believe the medicine lacks efficacy. People argue these issues endlessly, citing experts and statistics to prove a point.

Idaho, along with 16 other states, has considered creating laws protecting no-vaxxers from discrimination. Creating a protected class for those who say no makes a mockery of what it means to be a minority or to experience unequal treatment at the hands of an employer or government entity. Religious beliefs or medical conditions provide valid reasons to abstain from vaccination. These people are already protected by civil rights legislation.

Protecting against discrimination in employment or social settings for the class of no-vaxxers makes no sense. As an example, employers routinely require travelers to foreign countries to be inoculated against diseases endemic to those regions. Businesses enact social distancing and other measures to protect patrons. Our health system knows how to respond to viral pandemics. Smallpox, polio and measles are largely unknown in this country. Why should this disease be considered differently?

Municipalities do not ask “are you vaccinated” before providing services. But because of the extraordinary nature of the pandemic, individuals may encounter situations where they are told, “No, you cannot work here unless you are vaccinated.”

“No, you cannot use this business unless you observe social distancing protocols.”

“No, you cannot enter this hospital room, because we are continuing to deal with a pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 people in the United States.”

Saying no does not qualify one for the protections offered by civil rights laws, especially where that decision may have consequences for others. If one becomes ill and spreads that illness to others, the problem shifts from the personal to the community. Thus, the community has the right to act to protect itself from the decisions of some of its members.

Todd DeVries is the state committeeman for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.