This OpEd was published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser on August 11, 2021. Reproduced here with permission.
Hawaii seemed to be doing well. But the Delta variant has the daily tally of COVID infections now exceeding seven hundred cases. Governor David Ige is renewing the call to get vaccinated–as are many other Governors, including Republicans, like the Governor of Alabama. Yes, we should be compassionate about those who, for reasons of health, or the harsh lessons of history, cannot, or are reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID19. But it’s time to stop coddling those who refuse the vaccine for no good reason than they have done their own “research” or because they have drunk the toxic brew of conspiracy theories.
Their exercise of what they call “freedom” is the antithesis of the civic responsibility we should have to each other. We have no way of knowing all the ways in which the people we interact with routinely may be vulnerable. No one walks around with signs announcing that they are undergoing chemotherapy, or have a child battling a serious illness, or have just become pregnant. Healthcare workers have no freedom to turn away the unvaccinated when they fall ill. They did heroic work at the height of the pandemic. To expect them to continue to stand ready to treat us and endure the avoidable risk to their own health and the health of their families suggests a willful disregard for others.
Recently, at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Kalihi, Fr. David Gierlach said this: “It’s our Christian obligation to get vaccinated.” A version of that reminder should be issued from every pulpit in every place of worship. Every faith teaches us that the way to love God is to love our neighbor. We don’t have to like the guy next door. But we owe it to the larger community to not deliver a possibly deadly Covid viral load to someone unwittingly.
The Jesuit scholar, Fr. James Martin likens getting vaccinated to being a good Samaritan. He points out that the twisty road between Jerusalem and Jericho was known to be dangerous, with bandits likely to accost travelers at various points. And yet, despite the risk, the Samaritan in that familiar story stopped to render aid to the stranger who had been waylaid and left to die by the roadside. Taking the vaccine, says Fr. Martin, is “not about you. It’s about the other guy.” It’s about our civic responsibility to look out for our neighbor and for the common good.
Millions of people in many parts of the world cannot get access to any vaccine. Here in the United States it’s the newest expression of First World privilege to say “no thanks.” It is unacceptable to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. It should be just as unacceptable to put the community at risk by refusing the vaccine.
From President Biden to Governor Ige to physicians on the front-lines: the push to get vaccinated has grown more urgent every day as the Delta variant works its highly transmissible way through the community. We are watching the undoing of months of sacrifice. It does not have to be this way. It’s pretty straightforward: the more people get vaccinated, the less hospitable the environment for the virus.
This has been a harrowing 18 months. We owe our doctors, nurses, orderlies, first responders and all who put themselves at risk to help those who fall ill, a huge debt of gratitude. It is unseemly to keep asking them to do more than they need to. Let’s be fair to them, and to each other. Let’s talk to the skeptics. Let’s help someone who needs a ride to get to a vaccination center. It’s a cliché, but it has never been more true: we indeed are in this together.
Note: Wednesday and Friday Afternoons: Free COVID vaccinations at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal church on N. King St. Call 913-1364 to reserve a spot