69. Doctor, what do you say to your patients who are reluctant to obtain a COVID19 vaccination?

July 16, 2021

As between individual doctors and patients, between medical colleagues and between one neighbor and the next, it’s a boundary issue.  We offer our best ADVICE,  complicated by today’s overabundance of misinformation and inadequately proven assertion and opinion.  Then each of us gets to decide FOR HIMSELF OR HERSELF whether to become vaccinated.

Under what is called the “police power of the state”, which covers matters pertaining to the health, safety or general well-being OF THE PUBLIC, the state legislature has the authority create and its administration to enforce laws governing the BEHAVIOR OF OTHERS.  As individuals, institutions, political parties or doctors, we do not have this power.  Never have.

This has long been established: that in the case, for instance, of individuals declining medical treatment for themselves, they are free to do so.  If others, e.g. family, feel that individuals are not competent to decide for themselves, or if they are making decisions for their children that may result in harm to or the death of the child,  petition may be made to the courts by doctors and hospitals for a court order to proceed with treatment.  Both sides may be represented by lawyers and the court will decide.

Yesterday I had an encounter that illustrated this boundary issue for me. 

My next door neighbor had invited me to dinner with a new neighbor and two others from the next block.  When she stopped yesterday to tell me about a change in the date, I asked whether she knew the vaccination status of all the guests, indicating that I was vaccinated.

Drawing back and lifting her chin as if offended that I had asked, her response was, “I don’t think that’s anyone’s business.”

I said it made a difference to me because I am still wearing a mask for any indoor gatherings that include any people who are unvaccinated.  And that I would need to know whether to wear my mask or remove it. 

Her reaction was, “That makes no sense to me!”

(It was sounding to me as though she would be offended if I took it upon myself to ask her guests in her home whether they were vaccinated.)

I responded with a smile intended to be tolerant, but which she may have taken to be condescending, that it made sense to me and that as things stood I would not be able to attend the dinner, adding,”But thanks for the invitation.”Again, intended to be sincere, but which she may have taken to be sarcastic.

Fortunately, for the most recent half of my 86 years I have been able to accept the things I cannot change with a modicum of serenity.