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Monday, December 5, 2022
Op-ed: Forced vaccination is wrong, but let’s deal with COVID peacefully

Dr. Kathryn Belicki

Special to The Lake Report

Here we go again: another year, another variant. But this feels like we’re right back at the beginning of 2020.

Like many, I’m cranky and exhausted. It seems I’m always searching for a righteous reason to be angry.

It’s hard to be furious at something I can’t see; much easier to be incensed at concrete, in-front-of-my-face you.

Take the escalating battle over vaccination. I’m triple-vaccinated, as are most around me.

It didn’t bring us the freedom we’d envisioned, but as Omicron sweeps through, its benefits have come clear. In the last few weeks, 10 people I know have fallen sick.

Nine had a few miserable days but didn’t need a physician. The one who was unvaccinated landed in the ICU.

You can bet I dearly wish everyone was vaccinated — for their sake, for my sake should I need an ICU bed, and for the sake of an acquaintance whose cancer surgery has been cancelled yet again.

But in the face of relentless frustration and fear, it’s easy to vilify those with whom we disagree. Last summer, my spouse and I camped our way across Canada, ducking the cities, avoiding restaurants and shopping in rural villages and towns.

I overheard — OK, I shamelessly eavesdropped on — several conversations about the reluctance to get vaccinated.

Unlike the emphasis on conspiracy theories in the media, these were mostly sensible discussions, albeit misinformed.

Many fretted about this new-to-them technology and the apparent speed of its development. Others talked about how they got the flu despite flu shots and wondered why this would be different.

Some, having never experienced how science works in real time, distrusted authorities who had given contradictory advice throughout the pandemic.

These days I am disturbed at the increasing talk of forcing people to get vaccinated. And am even more concerned at how many of my acquaintances think that’s a good idea.

I am not talking about mandates that restrict — for a limited duration — unvaccinated people’s access to non-essential public settings including certain work environments. That is simply a tragic but effective strategy for managing an infectious disease.

It’s not so unlike requiring smokers to take their habit outdoors. Even those with a medical reason for being unvaccinated should be isolated from such places, I think. (If someone needed to smoke for health reasons, they’d still have to leave the restaurant.)

But to truly require people to get vaccinated? That’s a step too far.

In scary times, it is tempting to relinquish freedom in the name of safety — especially other people’s freedom.

But it is precisely in such vulnerable times we must resist emotion and instead Krazy-Glue ourselves to sound principles and values.

Our world is increasingly filled with angry, brittle voices on all political sides. Some are prepared to be violent to address what they assume is their righteous reason to be enraged.

Forced vaccination is one alarming move in that direction. I’m not sure which I dread more: getting a severe case of COVID or living in a country where truly fundamental freedoms like sovereignty over our own bodies are undermined.

Anger is a complicated, sacred emotion: It is the trumpet call of injustice that summons us to action. It sweeps away fear and provides energy to act.

Because of those qualities, it can be intoxicating, addictive even, especially in circumstances that foster depression and anxiety. And though anger can arise for dodgy reasons, it always feels justified — maybe because it’s an emotion motivated by justice.

In these oh-so-trying times we need less rage, more reflection, forbearance and grace. Let’s not forget that the primary source of our anger is an invisible, havoc-wreaking organism.

As for our fellow, fallible humans, let’s try to bite our tongues and unless it’s an emergency, keep our hands off the car horn. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

Dr. Kathryn Belicki was a professor of psychology at Brock University for 34 years. She lives in NOTL.