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Make Unvaccinated People Pay: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan (NYU Medical School)
Remembering What They Said About the Unvaccinated
“You can't get life insurance or disability insurance at affordable rates if you aren't vaccinated. Those companies should not treat us as equals[.]” - Arthur Caplan
Bioethicist Arthur Caplan is the founder and head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Appearing on CNN, December 5, 2021, Caplan said he would “condemn,” “shame,” and “blame” the unvaccinated, and that insurance companies should not treat them “as equals.”
“Make Unvaccinated People Pay”
With law professor Dorit Reiss, Caplan co-wrote an article in Barron’s in August of 2021, arguing, as Joe Biden would do just a few weeks later, that the unvaccinated “are imposing costs and harms on the rest of us” and that “they should pay for their poor choices that hurt others.” Like most vax zealots in the summer of 2021, Caplan and Reiss relied on erroneous analysis, based on dirty, incomplete data, that ostensibly showed that only 1% of current COVID infections were among the vaccinated. Of course, by that time, there were enough “breakthrough” infections in the public domain to show that the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” narrative was garbage, and that far more than 1% of COVID infections were in the “fully vaccinated.” As happened so often during the pandemic, the truth mattered far less than the desire to scapegoat and blame the unvaccinated.
Foolishly, Caplan and Reiss contend that the vaccines could actually end the pandemic (by stopping transmission?) and that the unvaccinated would be the likely source of new, more infectious variants:
The intentionally unvaccinated are also delaying the point at which we can resume prepandemic life, by prolonging the pandemic and creating a real risk of more variants emerging, including variants for which current vaccines would perhaps be less effective.
Even as they made this claim, breakthrough infections were becoming so frequent, as vaccine efficacy inevitably waned, that the FDA was going into overdrive to authorize booster shots for the “fully vaccinated.”
But make no mistake, Caplan and Reiss are claiming, in no uncertain terms, that the unvaccinated are immoral killers who pose a unique threat to the safety of others.
In addition to vaccine mandates, Caplan and Reiss argue that “an unvaccinated individual who hospitalized someone else may be liable for hospital costs, potential lost wages, and declining earning capacity.” By couching their arguments in the lexicon of legal liability and medical ethics, they might at first blush come across as reasonable, even if wildly misinformed. But make no mistake, Caplan and Reiss are claiming, in no uncertain terms, that the unvaccinated are immoral killers who pose a unique threat to the safety of others. Such claims, as we have seen throughout the pandemic, inevitably lead to proposals for how best to punish and coerce the unvaccinated.
While Caplan and Reiss merely propose crushing financial penalties for the unvaccinated, they played a small, but important role in stoking the flames of social contagion that flared up around the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” narrative. As a consequence of this social contagion, many people lost jobs and health insurance for going unvaccinated, and many more suffered months of intense anxiety from the prospect of losing their jobs. Taking a cue from Caplan and Reiss, shouldn’t they be held accountable for the suffering they inflicted on others? Shouldn’t they be held liable for the lost jobs and wages that their arguments, based as they were in gross misinformation, helped to cause?
Caplan Learns Nothing from Omicron
In a January 2022 interview, with WebMD, Caplan acknowledges that “gloating” over the deaths of the unvaccinated, as many had done, was bound to be ineffective. Nonetheless, he contends that choosing not to get a COVID vaccine is “bad behavior,” and that the unvaccinated “caused their own death.”
While Caplan eschews the harsh rhetoric of someone like Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, he nonetheless admits to having been caught up in the mass hysteria over the unvaccinated:
So this is a really interesting ethical thicket. It's a tough, tough area because I get into this myself. There are days I get very mad about the unvaccinated. I say things with an edge to try and move behavior. And sometimes I get pushback that says you're being too harsh[.]
OK, I get that. But I do think it's important to tell the stories of what happened to people who didn't take the ultimate precautions, not only who died, but who got sick, who've become disabled, who are long-haul COVID victims, if you will. Those stories really I think are better messaging than having Tony Fauci go on day after day and present the numbers.
Being an academic, Caplan presents his position as reasonable and nuanced, but at bottom he, too, is driven by anger and misinformation about the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines.
By January of 2022, with Omicron infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, it was obvious that the COVID vaccines did little to prevent infection. Indeed, even as early as summer of 2021, as Delta tore through the population, many vaccinated and boosted died or were hospitalized with severe COVID. Nor was there any good evidence that the vaccines did anything at all to prevent Long Covid. And yet, Caplan’s stance depends on the very opposite being true.
Whether people like Caplan are ever held accountable for their divisive rhetoric remains to be seen, but until we see sincere mea culpas, “amnesty” is out of the question.