Imagine a neighbor or coworker asking whether you’ve had some medical procedure or treatment. Had your prostate exam yet? Gotten a pap smear? How’s your BMI doing? How about that HPV shot?
Obviously, no normal person would do that because it would be shockingly rude and inappropriate. Yet for some reason a surprising number of people think it’s perfectly okay to ask their neighbors and coworkers whether they’ve gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.
Even worse, employers and school administrators seem to think it’s okay to ask subordinates and students about their “vaccine status.” Indeed, a growing number of colleges and universities, including major public university systems like the University of California and California State University, as well as Maryland’s state university system, are planning to impose vaccine mandates on all students, staff, and faculty for the fall term.
Don’t want to get the vaccine? You better have a good reason — and you better be prepared to tell your employer or school all about it.
Some might say that asking about or even mandating a COVID-19 vaccine is okay because there’s a public health concern. We want to control the spread of the coronavirus, don’t we? No one’s going to ask you about your prostate exam because prostate cancer isn’t communicable but coronavirus very much is, so asking about it, or even mandating a vaccine, is fair game.
Well, not so fast. Historically, vaccine mandates in America have been rare and localized. We’ve never had a national vaccine mandate, not even for diseases like polio and smallpox. Sure, some leftists like Obamacare architect Ezekiel Emanuel wants very badly to impose a national vaccine mandate, as he argued last week in The New York Times. He’d like to see tens of millions of vaccine-hesitant Americans forcibly vaccinated, as well as all schoolchildren, with no “religious or philosophical exemptions” allowed.
Then again, Emanuel also thinks everyone should want to die at age 75 — he’s 63, only 12 years left! — so his views are not exactly representative.
Your Boss Isn’t Entitled to an Explanation
But leaving aside radicals like Emanuel, what about ordinary Americans who think they have a right to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t? First, we need to start thinking about what these new COVID-19 vaccines really are: they aren’t traditional vaccines and could be reasonably described as new medical treatments.
Traditional vaccines, like for the seasonal flu, involve injecting a weakened version of a virus to stimulate the body’s natural production of antibodies against it. But the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a novel mRNA technology that delivers genetic information directly to the body’s cells, instructing them to make proteins associated with COVID-19 so that they can recognize the virus and develop antibodies to fight it.
It’s impressive technology, but also extremely new and relatively untested. Usually, vaccines go through years of clinical trials before they get FDA approval, but not this time. The COVID-19 vaccines went through months, not years, of trials, which is one reason they only have “emergency use” authorization from the FDA, which had never before approved an mRNA vaccine.
So it’s not crazy to be hesitant about taking one of these new vaccines. Their long-term effects are as yet unknown, as are their effects on pregnant women and fertility. Indeed, there were no pregnant women involved in the clinical trials for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and Pfizer only announced in February that it’s planning to run a mass clinical trial with pregnant women, the results of which won’t be in until January 2023.
Concern about the effects on fertility and pregnancy isn’t some crazy conspiracy theory. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself states that “there are currently limited data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people,” and that, “We need to continue to follow pregnancies long-term to understand effects on pregnancy and infants.” So it’s understandable that pregnant women or couples hoping to conceive might have qualms about getting these shots.
What’s not understandable is that anyone should be expected to explain all of this to an employer. Imagine a male boss asking a female subordinate whether and when she’s going to get a COVID vaccine, potentially putting her in the awkward position of having to divulge very private, sensitive medical information.
It would be a massive invasion of privacy, and in any other context would earn that boss a justified slap across the face. It also might bias employers against vaccine-hesitant employees or pose barriers for advancement — for example, in firms that require employees to be vaccinated before traveling for work.
Simply put, though, your boss has no right to ask you why you haven’t yet gotten any medical treatment, let alone a novel therapy that might have long-term consequences for your ability to start a family. No one should have to answer those questions from an employer, any more than they should have to answer any other private medical question. It’s none of your boss’s business, period.
Instead Of Being Rude, Maybe Try Following Science
For those who want to justify such crass invasions of privacy on the grounds that they’re just trying to “slow the spread,” they should pay attention to the science and data we have after more than a year of this pandemic. Coronavirus cases are now plummeting nationwide, partly because of vaccinations, partly because strategies to contain the virus appear to be working, as do better treatment strategies for those who do get sick, and partly because a great many Americans (perhaps more than half) obviously have some immune protection.
We know that COVID-related deaths have been steadily declining since January, as have hospitalizations. We know that the vast majority of those who have died from COVID-19 are over the age of 65 and have pre-existing comorbidities, which substantially weakens the case for forcibly vaccinating all schoolchildren or forcing all colleges and universities to mandate vaccines. We know all this, yet many Americans, including people in positions of power, are still acting as if everyone is equally at risk from coronavirus, or that masks are still necessary for people who have been fully vaccinated.
Vaccinated people who feel it’s their right to pry into the medical decisions of others, and justify it with the argument that they don’t want to get infected from an unvaccinated person, should pause to consider that their chances of getting sick from COVID-19 after being vaccinated are extremely low. Last week, the CDC said that of the 78 million Americans who at the time had been vaccinated (the number is now about 96 million) only 5,800 had subsequently caught COVID-19, or about 0.007 percent. Of those, 74 died, or about 0.00009 percent.
If you’re worried that you have a 0.007 percent chance of getting COVID-19, or a 0.00009 percent chance of dying from it, and therefore you think you have a right to ask everyone around you if they’ve been vaccinated, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Follow the science, for one thing. Also, maybe just stay away from me.
In any case, don’t ask me if I’ve been vaccinated. It’s rude.