A funny thing happened on the way to herd immunity

Published May 6, 2021

By Tom Campbell

In early April Duke University announced that all new and returning Duke students must present proof of covid vaccination before enrolling for the fall semester. Notre Dame, Cornell, Brown, Rutgers, Syracuse and Wake Forest have implemented the same requirement. Look for others to follow. Can they legally require vaccination?
North Carolina law requires students at public and private institutions present proof they are vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and varicella before reporting to campus. It is not unreasonable to include flu and covid vaccinations also. Demonstrating that proof raises the subject of “vaccine passports,” but we won’t chase that rabbit.
The Duke announcement posed several interesting questions. Can an employer require an employee to be vaccinated? Arizona State University recently reported the results of a study they conducted showing that 65 percent of employers will offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated; 44 percent will make it a requirement and 42 percent said the employee will not be allowed to return to the physical work environment without the shot. We have honored the longstanding “no shirt, no shoes, no service” requirement of businesses and most of us have also accepted demands for masks before entering, but could stores refuse service if customers haven’t been vaccinated?
This opens the question of personal liberty. You have the freedom to choose whether or not to be vaccinated, but in exercising your freedom, do you have the right to restrict my freedom of feeling safe in going where I choose? In early April I wrote a column predicting that our return to life as we knew it pre-covid was dependent on how many refused to get vaccinated. That prediction is unfortunately coming true.
As of May 2nd, 49.2 percent of all adults in North Carolina have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 40.5 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 30 percent or more say they are either hesitant or outright refuse to take the shot. Some say political philosophies as to why they are refusing. Others cite medical, religious or even racial reasons.
North Carolina has relaxed requirements for eating, shopping, sporting and entertainment venues and Governor Cooper says that more relaxations are dependent on more of us getting vaccinated. Recent data shows the number of doses of vaccine administered in our state have declined by over half in recent weeks; there is more available vaccine than arms wanting the shot. Cooper says lifting indoor mask requirements depends on two-thirds of adults having at least partial vaccinations. Unless many more step up to take the shot, this doesn’t seem likely. And with so large a number unprotected we could easily see another surge.
President Biden recognizes we won’t return to our pre-covid ways until we reach “herd immunity,” generally accepted as 70 percent with immunity from having had the virus or the full round of shots. He announced an ambitious goal of having 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated by July 4th, a tall order.
Throughout our history Americans have been bound by a social contract, unwritten mutual agreements to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms for the safety, protection and welfare of others. We have defended to the death your freedoms and rights, understanding you contract to do the same for me. Protecting the health and safety of others is an essential part of that contract, but large-scale refusal to get vaccinations that would essentially eliminate the Covid threat is evidence the social contract is breaking down. Evidently there are large numbers who don’t care about the rest of the “herd.” That is a sad place to be right now.