Archived Opinion

The social impact of personal decisions

The social impact of personal decisions

To the Editor:

Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve heard many rationalizations to justify the decision not to get a vaccine against COVID-19. One that stands out is that this decision is a “personal choice.” 

At the other end of the decision-making spectrum is the concept of “social responsibility.” The problem with personal choice is that no decision made that is not isolated from potentially affecting someone else can be truly considered a personal choice. For instance, if I decide to smoke, I’m more likely to need medical services than if I didn’t smoke. Smoking in public can also affect others who are exposed to second-hand smoke. That’s why there are (social) laws prohibiting smoking in public places and that’s why health insurance companies are justified in charging a higher premium to smokers because this activity is more likely to incur higher medical expenses.

When the COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out, everyone had a decision to make. Was it safe for me? Do I have any pre-existing conditions that make it more likely that I’d have a bad outcome? Do I trust the public health experts who have vetted it and vouched for its safety and effectiveness? These were personal decisions to make.

The social decisions were just as critical, though. For instance, do I have a responsibility to help my community combat this dangerous virus? Do I have a responsibility to my family and friends not to infect them with the virus? Beyond these considerations I’d add a few more. Do I have a responsibility to my employer not to put myself and fellow employees at risk? Do I have a responsibility to my community to limit the likely financial fallout from business losses and closures caused by widespread virus activity. Would I be responsible for stresses placed on local public and private health services, and limiting or cancelling public activities such as school, concerts and sporting events? Do I have a responsibility to my health insurer to minimize the risk of exposing them to the cost of my care if I get a bad case of COVID-19? Like with the smoker, this would be justification for an insurance company to charge a higher premium.

You might argue these are not issues you should need to consider when making a “personal decision” to take or refuse the vaccine. But there is ample evidence these issues are all very real whether you consider them or not. They can and will impact you one way or another. So, you are also making a decision about social responsibility whether or not you are consciously doing so. Your decision — combined with those of many others (the social part) — can and will impact the health and safely of your community and beyond, just as much as it will your own health and safety. When you offer your arm for the shot, you’re offering it for many others. When you don’t, you’re refusing it for others, too.

Glenn Duerr


Leave a comment


  • Agree. It is everyone’s responsibility. Please take the vaccine. If not for you, for someone you care about. We need this pandemic to end.

    posted by Evelyn

    Sunday, 08/29/2021

  • Well said. We're all in this together.

    posted by Anna Thibeault

    Saturday, 08/28/2021

  • Thank you, well said! Unfortunately, preaching to the choir.

    posted by Deni Gottlieb

    Saturday, 08/28/2021

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