The right personal choice

As a nursing home physician, I watched helplessly last year as 30 residents died of COVID-19. This year, with over 90% of nursing home residents vaccinated, the deaths have plummeted. COVID-19 infections have not stopped, but the health consequences are markedly less serious.

The challenge has been to achieve high vaccination rates in nursing home staff. As part of a COVID-19 team, I support long-term care facilities in four southeastern Pennsylvania counties.
Recent facility outbreaks show a significant difference among these counties. While 20% of Lancaster facilities had outbreaks, the adjacent counties had outbreaks of only 5%-8%. I believe this is related to staff vaccination rates of 67% in Lancaster County, compared to 87%-94% in surrounding counties. Restated, a staff vaccination rate that’s lower by only 20% may be related to a 400% increase in outbreaks.

Some people argue for personal-choice rights. The question should not be whether we make all of our own decisions but rather: What is the proper balance between individual preference and community health? How much can we stretch to honor individual choice, and when are our neighbors more important?

I am convinced that COVID-19 precautions (masks and physical distancing) and vaccination are examples where community benefit is greater than other priorities. The very small risk of vaccination side effects is readily justified by the large known risk of COVID-19 infection and the proven benefit of vaccination.

If you are distressed by COVID-19 vaccination requirements, I have an easy solution. Make an independent decision to receive COVID-19 vaccination as a wise health choice for you and your community. Then when someone inquires about your vaccination status, you can report that you have already exercised your independence.

Leon Kraybill, M.D., Lancaster, Pa.

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