Three weeks ago executives at a Ripon-area business asked themselves, “When the pandemic is behind us, do we welcome customers into our operation who have not been vaccinated?”
Gauging their responsibility to not intermix healthy customers with those who may be at risk, they prudently decided to defer their decision by following the lead of others in bigger markets. Their production strategy does not include reinventing wheels.
But the issue of vaccine passports — a topic du jour among cable’s talking heads — creates anew the classic conflict we’ve confronted in various permutations for the past 13 months: freedom vs. public health; politics vs. science; government edict vs. individual responsibility.
In short, liberty vs. lives.
To be clear, the issue now isn’t whether government should require people to show vaccine verification before receiving services.
But that actually has been an ongoing phenomenon for years. Wisconsin law requires, and the Ripon School District enforces, that students must receive state-mandated vaccinations, or furnish a parent-signed waiver claiming a health, religious or personal-conviction exemption. Absent a shot or a note, the student is expelled.
Some states are even more hardcore. In 2016 California told parents or guardians of students in any school or child-care facility, whether public or private, that it would no longer allow them to submit a personal-belief exemption to a currently-required vaccine. In that state, guaranteeing the immunity of the herd trumps individual preferences.
But the question before the public now is whether businesses, not the government, can speed up their return to normalcy by excluding patrons who refuse to be COVID vaccinated.
Conservative dogma suggests government should stay out of such matters — leave free enterprise truly free to make its own decisions. But ironically the private sector’s prerogative to base determinations about who they will serve has been short-circuited by at least two conservative governors — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Abbott and DeSantis during the last three weeks issued executive orders prohibiting businesses such as airlines, concert venues, sports arenas and cruise lines from requiring patrons to provide vaccine credentials before allowing admittance.
Here in Wisconsin, two legislators are circulating a bill that would prohibit implementation of any vaccine passport plans. Republican authors Rep. Gae Magnafici of Dresser and state Sen. Rob Stafsholt of New Richmond argue their plan prevents “government overreach” although its ban pertains to business owners as well as to Gov. Evers.
Private sector vaccine gatekeepers argue their businesses will be healthier when they can assure customers that their facilities are safe by minimizing any opportunity for viral contagion.
That’s the “lives” argument.
The “liberty” position is equally straightforward. People should not be required to share any of their public-health information as they go about their daily lives.
With at least 28% of Wisconsinites now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the notion of a reasonably “normal” post-pandemic United States seems obtainable.
But until herd immunity is achieved in Ripon, in Wisconsin, in America and beyond in countries that have had little access to vaccines or haven’t taken the pandemic seriously (Google: Brazil or India vaccination), we all remain at risk.
That includes those of us who have been vaccinated or have survived COVID, two conditions that are temporary. We all remain vulnerable to contracting COVID and its ever-evolving variants, becoming sick, getting hospitalized and spreading the virus to others including those we love most.
Probably a good idea, with exemptions for those who are masked and for legitimate medical reasons cannot be vaccinated.
Lives can be saved. And liberty preserved, too.
Hard to be free when you’re arms are strapped to your sides while you breathe from a ventilator as your lungs slowly fill with fluid.
Life vs. liberty?
How about both, if we act responsibly and continue to care about others as much as we do for ourselves.
— Tim Lyke