Last week, all of us — especially workers and businesses — scored a big victory when a federal judge in Houston, Texas, told a registered nurse in the Houston Methodist hospital system that if she thought her freedom was threatened by her employer insisting that she be vaccinated against COVID-19, well — she was free to go work somewhere else.
"Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer. [Nurse Jennifer] Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else," U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in dismissing a lawsuit filed by 117 Houston Methodist workers, including Bridges, over the vaccine requirement.
Bridges, who says she lacks confidence in the vaccines despite their demonstrated safety, said she and the others will take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court if they have to: "This is only the beginning. We are going to be fighting for quite a while."
But legal experts say such vaccine requirements, particularly in a public health crisis, will probably continue to be upheld in courts as long as employers provide reasonable exemptions, including for medical conditions or religious objections.
Those were not Bridges' excuses. "This is supposed to be America; you're supposed to have civil rights and constitutional rights, your freedom of choice ... Nobody should be forced to put anything into their body if they're not OK with it," she told Texas Monthly magazine at least a week before the judge's ruling.
Wrong. Wrong on at least two counts.
* She — and apparently many of us, especially in Tennessee and Georgia — are under the misguided idea that an individual's civil rights and constitutional rights always supersede the rights of society to mandate personal behavior, to place the common good ahead of "freedom of choice."
Columnist Steven Roberts reminded us of this on this page recently: "Even the most basic rights have limits, especially when an individual's action impinges on the well-being of others. You can speak freely, but not to incite violence that jeopardizes public safety. You can drive a car, but first you have to pass a test, and then obey rules about speeding, drunkenness and other reckless behaviors. And you should be required to get vaccinated when you are susceptible to a deadly disease that can infect others."
The Supreme Court made that same argument in 1905 when it upheld a Massachusetts law that mandated vaccinations to contain a smallpox epidemic. That ruling remains an mainstay principle of American law today.
* We put a lot of things in our bodies we shouldn't be OK with. A COVID-19 vaccine is not one of those things we shouldn't be OK with. Yes, the ingredients include multi-syllable chemical names, but so do our most popular brands of lip balm, not to mention diet soft drinks.
In the development of these vaccines, the makers were instructed to bend over backwards to avoid harmful things - including things that are common allergens. The science is safe and demonstrated.
Nurse Bridges and crew likened their situation to medical experiments performed on unwilling victims in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The judge rightly called that comparison "reprehensible" and said claims made in the lawsuit that the vaccines are experimental and dangerous are false.
Do you know what really is experimental and dangerous? Going without a vaccine. Especially now with the new and much more contagious Delta variant of the virus already reported in 10% of new U.S. cases. It has already been found here in Tennessee, Georgia and at least 11 other states, according to a tracking map maintained by the company Helix, which works with the CDC and performs genetic sequencing on the virus variants.
Still, the Volunteer and Peach states remain almost at the bottom of the list with their rates of least vaccinated residents. Wednesday's tally by Becker's Hospital Review found Georgia at No. 45 with about 33.9% of its population fully vaccinated. Tennessee is No. 46 with about 33.8% of us fully vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated people have the best chance against the Delta variant — 80% efficacy, say White House COVID experts. Among partially vaccinated folks, the viral resistance drops to about 30%.
Kudos to Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and his administration for taking the free vaccines to local community centers. The walk-in and same-day vaccination sessions began Wednesday and will continue every Wednesday through August.
Free vaccines also are available without an appointment at the Tennessee Riverpark on Amnicola, the Sequoyah Health Center, Birchwood Clinic, Riverfront Nights and other locations. See the Hamilton County Health Department's Vaccine Calendar at vaccine.hamiltontn.gov. Many Walmarts and area pharmacies also are offering free vaccines.
Our country's tally of COVID-19 deaths topped 600,000 last week — about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. Here in Hamilton County, the death toll is at least 505. In Tennessee and Georgia, combined, the virus has claimed about 33,000. Worldwide, more than 3.8 million have died.
Don't be the "free" person who lost your freedom to the Delta variant of the COVID-19 because you were misguided or misinformed. Get vaccinated to be really free.