The answer is that there isn’t one—at least right now. Yes, refusing a vaccine is your choice, but because your choice affects so many others’ lives, you may lose certain privileges for the foreseeable future. What we can do now, though, is determine how to have conversations with people who are feeling hesitant in a way that doesn’t feel degrading or holier-than-thou. People have valid concerns for vaccine hesitancy—that’s OK! For myriad reasons: the warp speed, a history of medical mistrust within marginalized communities, medical freedom, and so on. For parts of the well-being community in particular, though, a potentially mandated vaccine goes against what many individuals believe in—taking control of one’s health by fortifying their immune system.
These concerns won’t be addressed overnight, of course, but preventative medicine specialist, David Katz, M.D., says that verifying your immunity doesn’t necessarily translate to vaccination (if you don’t want it). “If you want to do X without a mask before date Y, you need evidence of immunity, either by means of antibody test or vaccine. That is quite reasonable, and does not really impose vaccination of anyone,” he tells mbg. “In other words, contextually specific mandates adopt a balance between public safety and personal autonomy.” Meaning, you don’t have to get a vaccine if you choose not to—you’ll just have to verify your immunity in some other way, or you’ll have to refrain from certain activities for public good.
He also suggests approaching it from a risk-reward perspective: “Receiving a vaccine is higher risk than not receiving a vaccine, because no medical procedure of any kind involves a risk of ‘zero.’ Neither, for that matter, does crossing the street!” he says. “What matters now for each individual is this: What is the lowest risk, highest benefit choice among the choices actually available? And how does that choice affect not just personal risk/benefit, but also that same ratio for others in our network of loved ones and close contacts?”
Realistically, the vaccine won’t be rolled out immediately, either: As this New York Times interactive vaccine timeline shows, unless you fall within the older, at-risk population, have COVID-related health concerns, or work in a healthcare facility, you’ll likely end up around 100 millionth in line. If you’re at all concerned with the vaccine’s effectiveness, you likely have some time before you’re tasked with making a decision. And if you’re at-risk for severe COVID infection? Well, those consequences may outweigh any side effects from the vaccine itself. Take it from Katz: “COVID vaccines, though produced quickly, and even though we don’t yet have long-term data, are overwhelmingly likely to be massively safer for most adults than taking chances with SARS-CoV-2.”
But if we continue to polarize the conversation, rest assured, we’re not going to get anywhere. People are allowed to have doubts; they’re allowed to have questions. At the end of the day, Purikh notes, “We need to look at it as a collective responsibility.” Not to view it as side versus side, but to carve a path forward with thoughtful, healthy discourse. Similarly, Weiss notes, “My personal approach is to refrain from telling people that there is one diet for all problems. Instead, I say that I hope we can all aspire to do rigorous and well-controlled clinical studies to help inform our future guidelines.”
Of course, supporting your immunity—whether you get the vaccine or not—remains crucial. It does ultimately tie back to health and nutrition, as poor metabolic health is a significant driver for a slew of chronic conditions that can ultimately, as we unfortunately know all too well from COVID, emerge as a pressing threat. “The greatest single influence of whether you develop a bad chronic disease or die prematurely is your diet quality,” Katz once told us about COVID and nutrition. All that to say, immune strength is driven by metabolic health. While the conversation around vaccination may be front-and-center at the moment, immune resilience should always remain front of mind.