Health Bulletin: Vaccine mandates should be as accepted as smoking bans


Chair, Westfield Board of Health

By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair

This pandemic just keeps on going. Just when you start to exhale and think maybe, just maybe, things are improving, they’re not.

Our numbers in Westfield are trending up again. We have 72 new cases, of which 65 percent are unvaccinated individuals. This is more than double last week’s numbers. Pediatric cases are increasing, also. In the unvaccinated 0-11 age group: 13 cases. In the eligible-for-vaccine age group: 6 cases. Thankfully, there are no deaths this week.

The political and social response to this pandemic reminds me of when smoking regulations were being implemented in communities. The opposing teams of COVID vaccinated and unvaccinated are similar to the smokers vs. non-smokers when our Health Department began enforcing smoking regulations years ago. Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke kill. SARS-Cov-2 infections kill.

Some politicians, local business owners, tobacco companies and more all fed the public misinformation about how damaging smoking regulations would be. This is similar to the misinformation about COVID-19 that is circulating faster than the virus. Misinformation led many to fight and argue against smoking regulations then, and stops many from getting vaccinated now. Those that are choosing not to get vaccinated are feeling discriminated against. They say the growing limitations put upon them are making them feel isolated and targeted. Many jobs, entertainment venues, sporting events, restaurants and travel modes are requiring vaccinations. If vaccines aren’t required, testing at the individual’s expense is often required.

Given that secondhand smoke is a proven carcinogen and causes many other health problems, our Health Department put into place regulations in restaurants, bars, city properties and clubs. We were not popular. We were accused of attempting to take away people’s livelihood, destroy community businesses and eliminate social clubs. And, of course, take away one’s constitutional rights. One man accused us of taking away his living room by banning smoking from social clubs. Our goal was to save lives and protect and promote the health of the community.

Here we are, many years later, with no businesses closed directly from the regulations. No harm done, and lives saved. No smoking in public businesses has become an accepted way of life. Those who choose to smoke may still do so, but they do not have the right to hurt others with secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that implementation of smoke-free laws has improved health outcomes and decreased smoking-related morbidity.

It is also proven that the unvaccinated are prolonging this pandemic. As long as this virus is allowed to thrive, this community and the world will lose more lives, people will suffer short- and long-term effects of the illness, and health care workers and hospitals will be overwhelmed. The domino effects of COVID-19 are too lengthy to list here. Public health officials are again accused of disrupting businesses, sports etc. The public health regulations and recommendations in place, including vaccines, are made to protect lives, not discriminate, isolate or target the unvaccinated. Vaccination and other health measure save lives. Infecting others with a virus that may potentially kill is not a right. We all have a responsibility as members of a community.

Retrospectively, the smoker vs. non-smoker feud is a vague memory. Ideally, it should never be community members pitted against other community members. My hope is that next year, at this time, the vaccinated vs. unvaccinated will also be just another memory. COVID vaccines will have become a way of life, just like no smoking in restaurants.

Wear your mask, use hand sanitizer, social distance, get vaccinated, encourage other to get vaccinated, spread truths, not misinformation, and save the lives of your family, friends, neighbors and children.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

Dedicated health department members have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, as well as Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP, Margaret Doody, and Stan Strzempko, M.D.

We keep working to keep you safe.

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