The MA state house and “vaccination certainty”

Last month, the Massachusetts state legislature passed an order requiring all members and staff to receive Covid vaccines. 28 courageous representatives (all Republicans) stood up for individual rights and voted against this authoritarian requirement. Naturally, they have faced criticism for doing so.

This article from CommonWealth Magazine outlines the arguments that took place at the state house. I’ll go over some of the highlights and explain why I believe the Democrat-controlled legislature was wrong to institute the vaccine mandate.

“Vaccines are essential to fulfill our responsibility to care for our staff, each other and the public, and represent the quickest path to a full and safe reopening,” said Rep. William Galvin, according to the article. 

This statement reflects two false presumptions. First of all, people do not have a moral duty to care for each other; people have a moral duty simply to refrain from violating other people’s rights. By forcing state legislators and their staffs to get a vaccine, the mandate order violates this moral duty. Second, this statement presumes that safety is required in order for the state house to be allowed to open. This is also false. There is no requirement to ensure that something is safe before allowing it to happen. The best option is to simply open the state house. That way, people who feel that it is safe enough to go there in person should be welcome to do so, and those who feel that in-person attendance is too risky should be welcome to attend via zoom or some other type of video conferencing. 

Your vote against providing vaccination certainty is a vote that tells your friends, your colleagues, and our collective staff you value their health less than your political talking points,” said Rep. Michael Day.

This statement rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons. It is wrong of Day to reduce standing up for individual rights, bodily autonomy, and medical privacy to “political talking points.” This denies any possibility that the dissenting representatives genuinely believe in the stand that they are taking, which is insulting both to them and to everyone who shares their opposition to vaccine mandates. Additionally, I found it somewhat disturbing that Day spoke of “vaccination certainty” as something that is important for people to have. Essentially, Day is implying that people have a right to be certain that the people around them have gotten the vaccine. This is not true at all. What medical procedures the people around you have or have not gotten is, quite frankly, none of your business. No one has a right to control, or know about, other people’s medical decisions.

The CommonWealth Magazine article also says, “Democrats portrayed votes against the policy as a vote against vaccine acceptance.” This argument is off-base as well. Votes against the policy are votes in favor of the right to choose whether to get the vaccine or not. Both options are acceptable and should be treated as such. Voting against vaccine acceptance would be voting for a policy banning state representatives from getting the vaccine, something that (obviously) is not under consideration. Instead, votes for the policy are votes against allowing the option of declining the vaccine, which is tyrannical and authoritarian. Votes against the policy are votes in favor of maintaining both options as acceptable, which is exactly the way it should be. 

Adding insult to injury, Rep. Mindy Domb posted the below tweet, in which she presumes that if something is effective at preventing transmission, illness, and/or death, then everyone needs to be forced to do it. This is completely wrong. No person or government has any right to force people to do things against their will, regardless of how effective those things are at preventing virus transmission, illness, or death. Additionally, by calling for “education,” Domb is equating holding a different opinion than hers with lack of education. Believe it or not, it is possible for someone to have the same amount of knowledge and education as Domb does, but to hold different moral and political views. What a revolutionary concept.

Adding further insult to injury, the order also allows representatives who do not get the vaccine to be cited for an ethics violation. This is the exact opposite of what they deserve. Choosing not to get the vaccine, given the amount of bullying, pressure, and coercion in the current political environment, demonstrates courage and the ability to think for oneself. Anyone who makes this choice should be lauded for his/her bravery and good character, not penalized with an ethics violation. 

Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who shared that she is immunocompromised due to treatment for pancreatic cancer, argued that violating individual rights is justified in order to protect vulnerable people. But But Rep. Michael Soter made a good counter-point. Noting that he is immunocompromised as well, he participated in the debate via zoom because “I know what my limitations are.” 

This is the right way of looking at things. I don’t want to sound un-empathetic towards people who are battling cancer or other medical conditions that affect the immune system, but the fact is that being immunocompromised does not give you the right to take away the freedom and privacy of other people. If you are immunocompromised, it is your responsibility to avoid situations that are too dangerous for you (or to incur the risk that the situation poses). It is not other people’s responsibility to undergo a medical procedure for your benefit, and it is not your right to require them to do so.