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Are the unvaccinated a threat to others?

By Alert & Oriented

A disputed question argued in the Scholastic style.

Objection 1. The unvaccinated are indeed a threat to others because the pandemic will only be overcome through herd immunity, and herd immunity can only be achieved safely and promptly through widespread vaccination. The unvaccinated are thus postponing the time until herd immunity is achieved and therefore are responsible for the heavy morbidity and mortality caused by this avoidable delay.

Objection 2. Asymptomatic infections with SARS-CoV-2 are known to occur and an unvaccinated person can transmit the virus to innocent bystanders. Therefore the unvaccinated are a threat to others.

Objection 3. The unvaccinated have an irrational fear of vaccines that is not supported by science. They have conspiratorial attitudes that are spreading through campaigns of disinformation, undermining public health institutions, and damaging social cohesion. Therefore the unvaccinated are a threat to others.

Objection 4. By minimizing the danger of the virus, the unvaccinated also dismiss the value of non-pharmacological interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and masking. Their overall reckless behavior further contributes to the spread of the virus and to much morbidity and mortality. Therefore the unvaccinated are a threat to others.

Objection 5. The unvaccinated are much more likely to be hospitalized with COVID and to suffer severe complications that are costly to society than the vaccinated. Therefore the unvaccinated are a threat to others and should bear the cost of their healthcare if they persist in their refusal to be vaccinated.


Sed Contra, as it is said, “The healthy have no need of a physician, but the sick do.” Therefore, being healthy, the unvaccinated have no need to be vaccinated and cannot be a threat for failing to do something they have no need to do.

Response: It is not the unvaccinated person who can harm, but the infected one. For an unvaccinated person cannot spread disease by virtue of being unvaccinated but only by virtue of being infected, and being infected does not figure in the definition of being unvaccinated for the unvaccinated are healthy.

An unvaccinated person is only potentially, not actually, infected, and only what is actual can properly be a threat. For the legal definition of a threat is “the real and serious communication of an intent to inflict harm,” but the unvaccinated could only inflict harm by being infected, not by being unvaccinated.


Reply to Objection 1. Herd immunity is a modeling concept in epidemiology that cannot serve as a target of public health policy, as when Mongolia was believed to have reached herd immunity for measles through wide vaccination rates yet nevertheless suffered a large and widespread outbreak of measles in 2015. The inability to achieve herd immunity, therefore, cannot be imputed to any person or group of persons.

Reply to Objection 2. Asymptomatic infections can affect the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated. Furthermore, the inability to detect an asymptomatic infection is a shortcoming of technology. Traffic deaths are much more likely to occur under poor lighting conditions yet we don’t consider nighttime drivers to be a public threat.

Reply to Objection 3. A society that claims to be pluralistic cannot be threatened by a plurality of attitudes. The distrust of public institutions cannot be considered a threat if coming from the unvaccinated, but a virtue (or at least an acceptable social stance) if coming from other groups such as, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement.

Reply to Objection 4. The correlation between vaccination status and compliance with NPIs has not been established in a manner that excludes confounding variables. Furthermore, while NPIs are widely accepted public health interventions, their actual effectiveness is difficult to prove empirically. The unvaccinated cannot therefore be deemed to be a threat based on this tenuous association to demonstrable harm.

Reply to Objection 5. A large number of diseases and injuries may be caused or aggravated by the behavior of their victims. The unvaccinated are not more of a financial threat to society than those who smoke, those who drink excessively, those who incur leisure sports injuries, those who drive absent-mindedly, those who eat more than they should, those who unduly expose themselves to sexually-transmitted infections, etcetera.


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