Guest columnist Robert E. Weir: No vax proof equals no business

  • A person draws out Moderna vaccine during a drive through COVID-19 vaccine clinic at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, on Sunday Jan. 2, 2022. Lars Hagberg /The Canadian Press via AP

Published: 1/18/2022 10:49:42 AM
Modified: 1/18/2022 10:48:38 AM

Here’s something I hate to do: Make Jeff Bezos richer. Here’s what I will do unless sanity reigns in western Massachusetts: Make Jeff Bezos richer.

My jaw dropped when I read Northampton Board of Health member Dr. Suzanne Smith’s remarks in the Jan. 14 issue of the Gazette. She insists that evidence “is lacking” that a vaccine passport would make a difference. Hers is a classic straw man absurdity. There can be no such evidence because we have never had vaccine passports. It’s a bit like saying garbage cans can fly because we have no evidence they cannot. She also presumes to know more than the Mayo Clinic or Dr. Anthony Fauci who disagree. 

The stakes are high: 21,000 Massachusetts residents have died of COVID-19, the equivalent of wiping the entire town of Ludlow off the map. If that’s too far away, it’s comparable to killing everyone in Easthampton and Hadley. 

In Massachusetts, 75% of the population is fully vaccinated. We know they can still get COVID, but let’s ask how they would get it. The answer is simple. Viruses seek hosts. Like unvaccinated people. In essence, the public health of the majority is being held hostage by a foolish but vociferous minority who can’t find their way to a clinic but always find craven politicians and courts to champion their cause. Remind me again what that cause might be. It seems to be a warped belief that “freedom” includes the right to spread disease. 

We are told that masks don’t help either. Numbers are bandied about regarding their effectiveness, from a high of 75% effectiveness to a low of 11%. I’m happy to crunch numbers on the low side and say it’s a mere 20%. Fine, but if the Mass Lottery announced a huge prize that a ticket buyer had a 1:5 chance of winning, would you buy one? 

The one thing upon which everyone agrees is that they are tired of COVID restrictions. Me too. I’m tired of seldom venturing more than a day’s drive from my own bed. I’m sick of how COVID has turned sports to farces. (Don’t you just love seeing 40-year-olds suiting up to fill a decimated Celtics roster?) I’m tired of wiping down every public surface and chapped hands from rubbing so much sanitizer and soap into them. I’m weary of wiping down doors, grocery carts, and every public surface. And I’m thoroughly fed up with those who tell me I don’t need to do this. I know that viruses persist in environments where people aren’t careful. I used to get two nasty colds per year. I’ve not had any since retiring from my teaching career.

Northampton Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary has admitted her real objection to restrictions. They fear it will harm business. Au contraire. Businesses throughout the city suffer from staff shortages and a lack of customers. Who could blame either for not wishing to run the risk of catching COVID from the tyrannical minority? 

I’m reminded of Edward Bellamy (1850-98), a Chicopee visionary who wrote “Looking Backward,” America’s most famous utopian novel. There are aspects of it that many would find objectionable, but Bellamy was not a do-your-own-thing proto-hippie. His good society was one in which people did the right thing because it was impossible for them not to do so. It was akin to what President Macron is trying to do in France – make it structurally impossible to ignore the public good.

Americans have been down this road before. During the New Deal, the government encouraged consumers to patronize only businesses displaying the Blue Eagle logo indicating they met fair labor standards. It was struck down by an earlier hidebound Supreme Court, but by then consumers knew the good from the bad and the latter suffered. 

How about some recent local history? The same boorish anti-restriction objections were raised to protest an indoor smoking ban. Local Chicken Littles predicted restaurants would go out of business en masse. A few did, but we soon learned that they were already leveraged up to their eyeteeth and would have closed anyhow. Northampton became a thriving foodie destination, not a dead one like it’s now becoming. The mandate helped business. 

Are you among those who aren’t eating out very much because of COVID? I am. But it’s a new world since 2004, when Massachusetts banned smoking in workplaces. We no longer have to risk our lives to go anywhere unsafe. We can order anything we need, including food. 

A vaccine passport and mandatory masking would both keep us safe and keep businesses humming. If we don’t have the courage to say “no” to the obstinate minority, I simply can’t imagine how retail stores, gyms, and bars can survive by relying upon the pigheaded 25%. If this is the route Northampton takes, I will look for passport and “Mask Required for Entry” signs. If there are none, I will turn around, boot my computer, click on Amazon, and make Jeff Bezos richer.

Robert E. Weir, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and retired history professor who resides in Florence. 
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