COLUMN: Nobody has a right to infect others

Brent Been

The Delta variant surge is overwhelming Oklahoma hospitals, and the state ranks highly in terms of infection rates. The highly transmissible COVID variant has caused an increase in pediatric infections as well. Nearly 700,000 people have died nationwide since the pandemic hit the U.S. over a year and a half ago. Yet the lack of unity in the midst of this crisis is appalling, with many refusing to adhere to mitigation efforts.

Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of the COVID outbreak is the selfishness among many who tout freedom and liberty over protecting others. The necessary steps regarding these mitigation efforts are safe, effective, and are in no way a violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights. In fact, there is even a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court precedent for vaccine mandates. The Massachusetts State Legislature did require the smallpox vaccine, with one challenge to the mandate. Pastor Henry Jacobson, of Cambridge, had claimed the mandate was a violation of religious rights under the First Amendment.

In this particular high court ruling, Jacobson’s religious rights yielded to the good of the community. In the final analysis, it was a dire situation that ultimately resulted in an action justified by the court. Fortunately, there are many in America who do not subscribe to the concept that an individual’s right must sometimes give way to the common good. Constitutional liberties do not translate into an absolute right to each American citizen, thus the "police power" of a state can indeed advance regulatory legislation designed to safeguard the public at-large.

The 1905 precedent has been upheld for over 100 years, as state and local governments have mandated immunizations as a prerequisite for public school attendance. Subsequent challenges to these particular mandates were ruled to be within the scope of the Constitution. It seems regulations do interfere with individual rights, yet the court did rule the imposition of reasonable regulations to protect the public do not usurp any constitutional provisions.

Mitigation efforts, such as mask mandates, have proved effective in the fight against COVID, yet the mask itself has become the epicenter of polarization in the nation. Business and school closings invoked anger by many who continue to tout “Don’t live in fear!” Personally, if more people would just get the vaccine and obey mask mandates, I would not be as fearful of COVID. It is not just a fear of COVID, but also a fear of individuals who choose to act in a reckless and selfish manner, with a complete disregard for the safety of others.

One would think that during a time of great crisis, state and local leadership would implement mandatory mitigation measures. And while many local leaders and businesses have, in fact, mandated masks and vaccines, this has not been a universal occurrence. There are state governors who, despite receiving the vaccine themselves, have spoken out against the idea of a vaccine mandate to score political capital.

In the wake of President Joe Biden’s directive to the Department of Labor for a vaccine mandate, we continue to hear the rage of many who cite infringement. But consider that a vaccine requirement is also grounded in OSHA regarding workplace safety. With the 1905 Jacobson ruling, and many other court rulings that have upheld a vaccine mandate precedent, the idea that many people cling to that a vaccine mandate is illegal or unconstitutional is ludicrous.

Nobody has the right to infect people with a deadly disease under the guise of defending freedom.

Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator with an emphasis on civics and history.

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