Basketball player KyrieIrving made the news recently when he was not allowed to play in New York due to the state’s vaccination mandate.
Like most doctors, I am obviously pro-vaccine. I promote its use, its effectiveness and the benefits it has brought to humanity; for example, the eradication of smallpox (no small feat). However, I am not in favor of vaccination mandates for the general public. I am also not in favor of public humiliation of people who have chosen not to be vaccinated: I do not think it is effective and I also think it is absolutely unethical to taunt and harass people who have different opinions about what is going on in their body. .
One of the maxims of medicine is “primun non nocere», A phrase attributed to Hippocrates (the father of medicine). This means that any medical act must be accompanied by a prior reflection on whether the benefit of the treatment (in this case a vaccine) is greater than the damage it can cause. For all the skeptics, I am not going to say that vaccines hurt and need to be carefully considered. Quite the contrary: the vaccines we have today, including the Covid vaccines, are quite beneficial and the damage is insignificant. Nevertheless, in medicine, we are taught to respect the patient’s will and freedom. This means that we also have to respect the decisions they make about their bodies, no matter how unpopular they are.
An example. I am a urologist and recently treated a 75 year old patient who had to be hospitalized before and after surgery. There was a risk that he could contract the Covid during this time because he was not vaccinated. I explained the reasons he should get the shot, but he continued to refuse. His daughters, who were in consultation with him, wanted to force him to do so. I had to explain to him that neither they nor I could demand that he be vaccinated, nor subject him to other medical treatment against his will. As a doctor, I am the guarantor of his health decisions.
During the pandemic, I kept telling my patients over and over again how much better they would be if they received the vaccine. I also wrote publicly about hisadvantages (direct and tangential), and the disadvantages of not getting vaccinated. Having been on the front line in the fight against Covid, I have personally witnessed, and grieved, the consequences of not getting vaccinated. I’ve seen people my age – doctors my age – die alone and on ventilators before a vaccine was available.
Yet we have to be consistent. Forcing someone to be vaccinated or applying coercive measures to do so is tantamount to wanting to sterilize someone against their will, while arguing that they are unable to decide for themselves. It all comes down to the fundamental right to freely decide on one’s own care, which is a fundamental human right.
My recommendation for anyone struggling with a loved one who won’t get the jab? Be empathetic, listen to their concerns, and base your arguments on science. However, if they persist in their refusal, it is their right to do so. And it is my job, as a doctor, to guarantee this right.
Dr Marcos Del Rosario-Santiago is a urologist in the Mexican Navy and a writer on medical sciences and ethics