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The Great Debate: Personal freedom versus society’s greater good

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Now that mask-wearing indoors is being recommended again and some businesses and organizations are requiring that their workers be vaccinated, you can bet that the often contentious debate between personal freedom and what’s best for our society as a whole will heat up even more.

Whether it’s mask-mandates...

“You’re contemplating whether or not to take some of our civil liberties away.”

Or vaccinations....

“I believe we were given an immune system for a reason.”

Those are some reoccurring phases you’ll hear at meetings where those topics are being debated with those against the issues sometimes speaking in angry, threatening tones.

But for detractors who say no one can take away their freedoms, well, we see examples every day that an individual’s freedom only goes so far.

If people drove on the left side of the road instead of the right or ignored traffic signals because they were exercising their personal freedoms, we’d all be in trouble.

And when it comes to getting shots, most of us have already been subject to mandatory vaccinations.

All fifty states require immunizations for children in order to enroll in public school, with the specific vaccines required differing from state-to-state. Various exemptions are available in most states for religious or philosophical reasons, but requiring people to get shots goes all the way back to the late 1800′s.

In 1905 the Supreme Court (Jacobson v. Massachusetts) ruled that a state can mandate vaccines and hand out criminal fines for those not in compliance. The court ruled that a state can impose “reasonable regulations” to protect the public health, even when those regulations interfere with individual rights.

“To me that’s the definition of society,” said CoxHealth President/CEO Steve Edwards. “We take care of each other and sometimes you give away some freedom to protect people you care about.”

Of course not everyone agrees with that assessment and in a world where you can find support for whatever you want to believe on social media, it’s getting harder and harder to change anyone’s mind.

“Even for me, sometimes we let personal experience trump all the data in the world,” Edwards said. “So we hope we can continue to educate people because they are getting so much misinformation that they become paralyzed. And when you’re paralyzed, you choose not to act.”

Around 80 percent of those who are not vaccinated say they will continue not to act, with 45 percent saying they probably won’t get vaccinated and 35 percent saying they definitely won’t get a shot.

The reasons for that are many and varied but certainly some people are frustrated by the changing rules and recommendations put out by the CDC. It wasn’t that long ago that people were told they didn’t need to wear a mask indoors if they were vaccinated. Now they do.

But Edwards points out that what some may view as contradictory signals is actually the world of science scrambling to keep up with an ever-evolving invisible enemy, the likes of which we’ve never faced before.

“I realize that science isn’t the truth. Science tries to find the truth,” he said. “Sometimes when we get more information that insight changes and we understand the truth differently. That’s kind of what’s happened in the course of this disease. We had a sense of what the truth was, we got more information and we pivoted. Science seeks the truth but doesn’t always have it.”

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