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Rights and Wrongs

Privilege vs. Human Right

Becca Willson

There are many avenues of discussion surrounding vaccines, especially in a world currently dotted with misinformation. You can barely scroll through your Facebook page or Twitter feed without seeing some sort of vaccine discourse, whether it’s scientific or alarmingly untrue. And the fact is, for many, it’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference.

Vaccine checkpoint for an Oilers hockey game at Rogers Place, Edmonton. Photo by Natasja Pitcher.

There is undeniable data that the mRNA vaccine works in preventing the severe illness and long-haul symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Now, these are ongoing effects, and things are likely to change because that is the nature of scientific data. Theories and discourse are supposed to evolve and change as more results become known, but that doesn’t mean what we’re doing right now will suddenly be proven wrong. The after-effects of the vaccine will not suddenly be proven to be disastrous; mRNA technology has been studied for decades with no such results. Maybe we will need booster shots in the coming months, and perhaps we will find we can achieve herd immunity in a different way, and maybe … anything could happen. 

Realistically though, without necessarily ruling out these possibilities, vaccines are still the best bet that we have for ending this unprecedented event that has changed all of our lives.

The miracle of vaccinations, one of modern science and medicine’s best breakthrough achievements, has been debated and argued back and forth since at least the advance of the smallpox vaccine in the 1800s. Not much has changed today. 

So, now a disclaimer.

What’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ differs in every person’s unique perspective, based on past experiences, beliefs, and upbringing. While it isn’t exactly ethical to forcibly decide for people what to do with their bodies, there is a difference between a personal choice and the decision to receive a potentially pandemic-ending and life-saving vaccine. 

Public health decisions are important because the choice each individual makes affects everybody else. Considering the scale of this global health emergency we are facing, with almost five million deaths at the time of publication, the decision to get vaccinated for the good of others may be the most influential one we make in our lives. 

 Of course, personal health decisions that have been discussed between someone with existing conditions that prevent the administration of a vaccine like the COVID-19 mRNA shot and a healthcare professional are different. Someone who medically cannot get the vaccine is clearly understandable; someone who chooses not to simply because they feel forced or backed into a corner is not. Currently, there are only two approved medical reasons to be exempt: either an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine or an adverse reaction to the first dose.

There are undeniable differences between a right and a privilege, and what you get to enjoy in society differs based on how you act in that society. Things like attending hockey games, which a lot of us enjoy whether we are avid fans or not, are privileges. 

Natasja Pitcher, a sports fan who was missing watching the Oilers battle it out on the ice, went to the first game back with spectators in the seats on Sept. 28 (Tuesday). She agrees that social and recreational activities like attending hockey games are a privilege, and being vaccinated is the one requirement right now to enjoy them. 

First Oilers hockey game with an in-person audience on Tuesday, September 28. Photo by Natasja Pitcher.

“Honestly, it felt so wrong. I was so excited, don’t get me wrong, but with the large crowds and knowing the COVID-19 numbers were so high, I felt very guilty,” Pitcher says after attending the game during Alberta’s fourth COVID-19 wave. 

“I felt a lot safer knowing [everyone] is vaccinated. However, these events still use a negative COVID test as an entrance key, and I don’t feel safe around those people,” Pitcher says, acknowledging that these large indoor events can still be risky for spreading COVID-19 because they are still allowing those who aren’t vaccinated in the doors.

You have to weigh your options and realize that you can still carry the virus and pick it up at one of these close-contact public events to then bring it home to your friends and family.  So, although the vaccines have been proven to prevent severe illness, there is still a risk of exposure. Allowing the unvaccinated into public events maintains that risk and allows a grey area to exist, meaning there is room to bend vaccination rules.

“I believe those who are refusing to be vaccinated and saying it’s their right to attend a game, [are] in fact harming the rights of others,” Pitcher says. Infringing on the safety and comfort of those who have followed public health directives is unfair and selfish. 

“If [hockey games] were a right, tickets would be free,” says Pitcher. 


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