By Larry Levine –

The conflict between the civil liberties of individuals and the collective public good could not be more clearly defined than it is now on the issues of vaccinations and masks as we battle a deadly pandemic. While I consider myself a defender of civil liberties, in the current dichotomy I come down strongly on the side of the collective good.

To arrive at this position I had to reach an accommodation with two points raised by civil libertarians.

1. The vaccines are not fully approved, thus under rules established after WW II to preclude future atrocities such as those perpetrated by the Nazis, people cannot be required to take experimental drugs.

2. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects individual privacy in medical matters so people cannot be asked if they are vaccinated or required to show proof of vaccination.

To the first I say this is not Nazi Germany and the circumstance are far different than the Nazi medical experimentations of the early 1940s. While the vaccines have not yet been fully approved, evidence is clear that they are effective in quelling the spread of the pandemic and promoting the general welfare.

To the second I say HIPAA is intended to provide protection for personal health information and gives individuals an array of rights with respect to that information. It was not intended to shield disease carrying individuals from their responsibility to the greater community or to prohibit society from protecting itself.

The notion of setting aside certain civil liberties when rights are in conflict is widely recognized and accepted both legally and morally.

A. Your right to free speech does not give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

B. Your right to throw a punch ends just short of the tip of my nose.

There are people among us who assert their right to remain unvaccinated and roam about unmasked. They have demonstrated their commitment to resist appeals to reason and a better nature. They do so even in the face of a COVID surge that is raging almost exclusively among the unvaccinated.

I believe we are at a time when a two-pronged approach to dealing with those people is not only justified but required.

THE SOFT SELL – Efforts to school the unvaccinated and overcome whatever reticence they may have should continue. Peer pressure, public education and other similar programs should continue. At the same time we must admit those people have resisted appeals to reason so far. The issues of vaccinations and masking are politicized to the point where many will not listen to appeals to reason. The right of those people to remain unvaccinated and unmasked, however, cannot be permitted to override the rights of the rest of us to be protected from them and the disease they carry and spread.

THE HARD SELL – My favorite supermarket once again has a sign at the door that says masks are required for admission. Why not a sign that says: “No mask, no vaccination, no entry.”

Restaurants should have signs that say: “No vaccination, no admission or service.” Many of these places already have signs that read: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” Why is it OK to bar people who don’t want to wear shoes but it isn’t OK to bar people who are the most likely to be carrying and spreading disease.

We could apply the same logic to outdoor venues like Dodger Stadium. Show us proof of vaccination or sit with all the other potential COVID infected in the right field bleachers. The rest of the stadium should be for “Vaccinated Fans Only.” Theaters are indoors, so “no vaccination, no admission.”

Let’s think back to the 1980s and how we achieved no smoking laws in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, public transportation, parks and other places. Only a small minority of the population were smokers. Yet, business owners shrank from “alienating” those people until the non-smokers rose up and demanded their right to not be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Change was steady but slow until then California State Assemblymember Terry Friedman couched the discussion as workplace safety. Waiters and bar tenders had to be on location as a condition of work and they deserved to be protected from the second-hand smoke of customers and co-workers. Same for airline crews, checkers in markets, and clerks in department stores.

After restaurants and bars became smoke free, owners found their business increased. Why not the same logic now? If you can’t require masking and proof of vaccinations, or you don’t want to do that for the general population how about doing it for the work force?

I have a friend who is a chef at a very high-end restaurant. One of the sous chefs refuses to get vaccinated. Management claims it would be too difficult to hire a replacement for that person, so they do nothing. What would happen if the rest of the staff, those who are vaccinated, went to management and said, “If you think it would be hard to replace the guy who is jeopardizing our health, what do you think it would be like to replace the rest of us? He goes or we go.”

What I am saying is that we’ve been allowing the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxer to dictate public policy for a year and a half. It’s time to suck it up and put the rights of responsible members of the community, the mask-wearing and vaccinated, ahead of the proclaimed rights of those who choose to defy the common good.

Implement a nationwide program of vaccination verification cards. Whether a business wants to restrict customers to only the masked and/or vaccinated would be voluntary. But they would have to post one of two signs: a) vaccinated only may enter, or b) unvaccinated welcome. Present a vaccination card upon entrance and you wouldn’t need to wear a mask. The rest of us could decide where we wanted to do business.

Public safety workers – police and firefighters – are among the more resistant to vaccination and masking. The same policies that allow them to be tested for drugs and require them to wear a uniform should be applied to requiring that they be vaccinated and masked. Members of the public who require the help of police officers or firefighters have a right to know the cost of getting that help might be exposure to a potentially deadly disease. If a cop pulls me over I should have a right to be shown a vaccination certificate before I roll down my window. If I’m a vaccinated cop it should be department policy that I do not partner with or ride with an unvaccinated cop to protect my workplace safety.

I can hear the howls already from the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and civil libertarians. But I say: “Screw them.” Ninety-seven percent of new COVID hospitalizations are non-vaccinated individuals. They are contracting and spreading the virus. Vaccinated individuals are getting “break through” illnesses because of those selfish people. Our hospitals and emergency rooms are being taxed to the limit again. The rest of us are being told we need to wear masks again to protect those selfish people from themselves.

I have no sympathy for those who swallow the garbage on the internet about the risks of vaccination. They are entitled to their beliefs but that doesn’t give them the right to impose themselves on the rest of us.