The difference between action and omission

Majoring in philosophy in college, one of the first things I learned is the difference between action and omission. There is a fundamental difference between actively doing a bad thing, and merely failing to do a good thing. The first is morally wrong; the second is not.

Unfortunately, this distinction is lost on the mindless authoritarians whose goal is to force everyone on earth to get the Covid vaccine. Again and again, everyone is constantly bombarded by the claim that people who don’t get the vaccine are driving the pandemic, that they are causing hospitals to become overwhelmed, that they are putting their co-workers’ health at risk, that they are causing illness and death to other people, et cetera. These mean-spirited and philosophically unsound messages even infiltrate the comics section of the newspaper: while hoping to find some lighthearted humor, I recently came across a comic in which a cartoon version of “Covid” appeared at a party, the guests told him to go away because they hadn’t invited him, and Covid responded, “Well, by not getting vaccinated, you kinda did.”

No offense to Mr. Covid, but this way of thinking is wrong. Not getting vaccinated is not the same as “inviting” Covid to your party, because failing to prevent something is not the same as causing it. It’s true that by opting against the vaccine, people are not doing everything within their power to stop the spread of Covid. But failing to stop the spread of Covid is not the same as causing the virus to spread.

People are not morally obligated to take preventative measures to protect themselves or others. People are not obligated to get a vaccine, no matter how safe, harmless, or convenient you may consider the vaccine to be. People are not obligated to care for others or demonstrate love for their neighbors. People are not obligated to work to end the pandemic, to “do their part,” or to make any sacrifices for the sake of the common good. 

People are obligated to abstain from actively harming others, and that’s it. As long as they are not deliberately coughing on someone with the express purpose of giving them the virus, non-vaccinated people are not doing anything wrong.

For those who think that this is merely a philosophical distinction with no practical significance, allow me to point out that as a result of the widespread failure to distinguish between action and omission, people who have not gotten the vaccine have wrongfully been subjected to all sorts of discriminatory and punitive treatment. First of all, falsely accusing someone of causing sickness and death is harmful in itself. Non-vaccinated people have been called idiotic, irresponsible, selfish, and nearly every insult and criticism imaginable. Real harm is inflicted by treating people this way. Additionally, non-vaccinated people have suffered significant material harms as well. Increasingly, they are not allowed to work, enroll in college, attend sports games, concerts, plays, or events, visit restaurants, gyms, bars, casinos, or malls, or even get medical services. There are plans afoot to charge them more for health insurance and possibly even to bar them from interstate travel. Because non-vaccinated people are not doing anything wrong, all of this is completely unjustified and undeserved

Non-vaccinated people are not driving the pandemic; the virus is. Therefore, to punish any person in any way for opting against the vaccine is morally wrong. It really is that simple.