Opinion: Opting out of the COVID-19 vaccine is not ‘a personal choice,’ but a problem we must solve together

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Quite a furor was kicked off around the league by Matt Sullivan’s recent piece on Rolling Stone highlighting how players on several teams may not be able to play in certain markets with vaccination mandates just over a day in advance of the NBA’s annual Media Day activities.

The article implicated several Boston Celtics among the holdouts, so fans likely breathed a sigh of relief when veteran guard Marcus Smart revealed he’d been vaccinated. However, his comments regarding the situation in question shed light on how much work still needs to be done regarding education on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to public health.

“It’s tough being told what you can and can’t do with your own body,” said Smart.

But the fact is no one is being told what to do with their own body. They are being told what they must do if they wish to put themselves in situations that may affect what happens to other people's bodies, including those who may never set foot in an arena. High-risk people with immunological issues impacting the effectiveness of the vaccine such as cancer patients and those with immune disorders can find themselves hospitalized despite making the choice to get the jab, even if they continue to largely isolate. Many among us cannot get the vaccine even if they want it because of medical concerns. As an anthropologist with training in public health, I have tried to suspend judgment of people's reservations against interventions designed to blunt the deadly impact of the pandemic. But staying aloof as an anthropologist and journalist has become increasingly difficult as the virus has taken a personal toll. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442130327493701632?s=20

With a member of my family hospitalized because of a compromised immune system due to cancer in a way I imagine Smart could relate to given what he went through in his own family with the disease, I do not want to tell others what to do with their bodies. I want them to do research with bonafide experts in medicine, and make a decision based on science to do the right thing for the weakest among us, using the best information available to avoid putting others at risk. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442608513356865538?s=20

"For me, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, to feel how they feel," said Smart at Media Day.

"I chose to get vaccinated because quite frankly, I didn't feel like dealing with the [expletive] that's evolving around it. But that was my decision, and I stand with anybody who makes their own decision, feels what they feel is best for themselves."

But what sometimes seems "best for themselves" to some people can end up being fatal to others -- or to cause long-lasting suffering to the "lucky" ones. Are not those people worthy of our concern? https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442605097414955008?s=20

Smart also talked about "how hard the league is going to make [things] for players who are unvaccinated."

"I chose to get vaccinated just because I didn't feel like going on with the [expletive], or I didn't feel like causing my team any disparity on that end with me not being available ... I respect everybody's decision, pro or against, so that's where I am with that."

Private businesses have the right -- and should have the right -- to mandate their employees take the care they may not otherwise choose to as individuals towards others. It's good business, good ethics -- and good practice. It is also not the position of the NBA even if it should be, instead demanded by several local governments in cities and states where the NBA plays. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442579707086704640?s=20

There is a quote attributed to an anonymous judge that claims "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins," and in a pandemic such as the one we are in, the proverbial nose of us all begins anywhere people congregate. NBA arenas are absolutely full of noses -- proverbial and otherwise -- and governments (or businesses) making a call to protect citizens is by no means "[expletive]". https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442534585653514244?s=20

"We'll continue to work from our end on what we can do and work from an educational standpoint," shared team president Brad Stevens on Media Day. "At the same time, everybody's got to make that decision for themselves." Hopefully, with better information and education, we can begin to see this as more of an "us" thing than a "me" thing -- and not just in arenas. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442512069098553349?s=20

Ultimately, public health approaches to vaccine hesitancy routinely demonstrate that the most effective means of getting people to sign on to the vaccine are not using guilt or shame. Instead, they involve education targeting the specific concerns of hesitant communities, increasing access to the vaccine, recruiting trusted leaders to advocate for it, and requiring employer mandates. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442489246867079176?s=20

It may be cathartic to direct your grief or anger at others, but if your goal is to see them make the leap, put pressure on the league, the NBA's Player's Association, and those who have made the decision to get the jab call on others to join them for the good of us all. And if that fails and things do not improve more generally, put pressure on the league and local governments to require the vaccine as a condition of mass gatherings as has been done in New York and San Francisco. https://twitter.com/TheCelticsWire/status/1442414395208966145?s=20

In many walks of life, a common rhetorical question is whether one wants to be right -- or to be effective. And when it comes to something so basic and critical as public health after having been politicized, we need to focus harder on the latter. Because the former is clearly not delivering the goods. This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook! [lawrence-related id=60228,60224,60217,60214] [listicle id=60221]

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