Enlightened self-interest means doing something that benefits others but is also good for you. Amid concerns about the emerging omicron variant of the coronavirus, we need more of it right now both among individual Americans and the nations of the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that everyone 18 and older should get a booster shot. No one is being forced to get one, but enlightened self-interest says it’s a smart move. It boosts the immunity of those who are already fully vaccinated with the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The vaccine also jacks up the immune systems of those who have already had COVID-19 but have not been vaccinated, so if it suits the hesitant folks better, they can think of it as getting “boosted” instead of “vaccinated.” Studies vary on how much immunity people have if they have suffered from COVID-19 but not been vaccinated, but one thing seems clear: A vaccination supercharges their immune systems.
The booster is widely available, it’s free, and it’s not being forced on anyone. So spare the arguments about whether or not a booster helps. It does. It’s not a question of liberty. It’s a question of common sense. In protecting yourself, you will also be protecting others.
The vaccines aren’t perfect. They are all about playing the percentages. With so much unknown about omicron, make the odds work in your favor. A person with a boosted immune system is less likely to catch COVID-19, far less likely to become seriously ill or die, and also far less likely to spread the disease to friends, relatives and loved ones. That’s enlightened self-interest at work at the individual, micro level. But it’s your call.
The omicron variant, first reported in South Africa, is already spreading across the globe. The first case was identified in the United States on Wednesday. It appears to be easily transmissible, but we don’t yet know how dangerous it is or how effective current vaccines are against it. Researchers are working on those answers right now. It’s time to be prudent but not to panic. We can already guess one thing: By the time omicron was detected, it had already spread far beyond where we knew it was.
The emergence of yet another variant — let’s hope we don’t run through the Greek alphabet naming them like we do in some busy hurricane seasons — proves that no nation is an island. Travel bans may slow the spread, but they can’t stop what has already happened. And they can inadvertently punish the very countries that are candid and alert world health officials as soon as they were aware of what was happening, as South Africa was in this case.
We live in an international world. So instead of pretending that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans somehow will keep the coronavirus and its variants far away, the United States should treat vaccinating people in other nations with more urgency. It’s a pandemic, after all. So long as so many people around the world have limited access to vaccines, the coronavirus will exploit vulnerable populations and hop from person to person, with every new case presenting the opportunity for mutations that could create yet another variant, one that is a mere jet flight away from us. We’re all tired of the pandemic, but the coronavirus doesn’t care what we think. It has already killed more than 786,000 Americans.
It’s in Americans’ interest to help vaccinate the world and thereby to protect us at home from more variants. Whether on the personal or planetary level, enlightened self-interest offers a useful guidepost. Let’s look out for ourselves and for others. Sometimes, it can be one and the same.
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