Some say "vaccine skeptics." I say freeloaders.

I should know: I was once one of them.

Gotta say, I have no more patience for so-called vaccine skeptics, and I’m fast losing any empathy for those U.S.-based who are getting sick with the Delta variant. They really did have their chance. Any adult in the U.S. who had wanted to get vaccinated a month or two ago could have done so with relative ease.

So what is happening now?—new restrictions, mandates, hospitalizations, deaths. They say I should start wearing a mask again, and why? To protect those people, those vaccine skeptics. I call them freeloaders, freeloading on an otherwise responsible society. I should know. For most of my childhood, I too was a freeloader. I was an unvaccinated, Christian Science-raised, I’m special, they’re-abridging-my-freedom-of-religion freeloader.

Of course, it didn’t matter back then, there were no consequences, because everyone around me was vaccinated. While they abided by public school mandates to get their shots, my mom submitted her religious objection paperwork for me and my sister annually. We didn’t get vaccinated, you see, because as Christian Scientists we relied on prayer for healing—God created man in his image and likeness, which meant that if God is a perfect spiritual being, so then were we, which meant no thank you, we didn’t need to get those shots in arms, those triumphs of modern medicine, which eradicated polio and virtually eradicated measles. We got our chickenpox the old-fashioned way, and dealt with it just like everyone else: with a week in bed and lots of popsicles.

Later, of course, my sister did get the measles. She was coming back from a trip to the UK and feeling kind of flu-like when she landed in DC. The idea was she would visit me there for a few days before flying home to New Mexico, but mostly she stayed in bed while I brought her a lot of tea and vitamin C. During a brief interlude when she felt halfway decent, we took the bus from Georgetown over to Dupont, then another up 16th St. to Columbia Heights where I went to look at a house with a room I wanted to rent. Later, I had to trace that route for the public health professional assigned to our case.

Two days later I sent my sister to the airport. She laid over in Denver, then flew to Albuquerque, where she was on the verge of collapse. She was hospitalized that day with measles, and stayed hospitalized for the better part of a week. The public health official in New Mexico called the one in Denver and the one in D.C., and the one in D.C. came to my apartment to take down the travel history so they could launch a public information campaign to alert anyone who may have been on either of the two buses we took while she was contagious.

I was still feeling fine at that point. I never did get the measles. But the public health lady gave me an ultimatum, which, I discovered, was more than backed up by relevant case law: either I quarantine in my apartment for two weeks (I would need to get groceries delivered), or I go right then and there at that moment to the Georgetown hospital to get the MMR vaccine.

I called my sister on the phone in the hospital, who was feeling a little better with all the fluids they were pumping into her: bro, go get the damn vaccine. You do NOT want to get what I got, she told me. So I went. The public health lady handed me a mask and told me to wear it at all times outside the apartment. She took me in her car to the hospital, fast-tracked me past reception, fast-tracked me into a room, and minutes later a doc came in and jabbed me with the vaccine. Case closed, episode over (except that four years and three apartments later the hospital tracked me down for an unpaid hospital bill; I’d had insurance at the time, but as I recall they never took either my name or my address—which didn’t stop the collections agency from somehow tracking me down.)

By the time this whole measles drama went down, I’d stopped being a Christian Scientist. But I hadn’t stopped being a vaccine freeloader until then. The aftermath of my sister’s visit involved state health agencies in three states attempting to track down everyone on the city buses, everyone on the plane from DC to Denver, and the other plane from Denver to Albuquerque, to try to stop the spread of a highly contagious disease that hospitalizes one out of every four people it infects and kills one out of every thousand (COVID kills 1.7 out of every 100).

I hadn’t gotten vaccinated first because I was raised religious, but second because I couldn’t be bothered, and it didn’t really seem to matter when everyone around me had been vaccinated. It just, you know, wasn’t high on my priority list. In fact: it was everyone around me, those law-abiding, non-freeloading citizens of the United States who had protected me all my freeloading adult life until that point.

After that, I started doing my diligence, asking for vaccines at my annual doctor’s appointments and explaining to them that no, I hadn’t ever gotten vaccinated, I was raised religious you see. When the COVID vaccine data was released I was stunned to see the 90 percent efficacy rate, when the annual flu vaccine is more of a coin flip. The low efficacy of the annual flu shot is always kind of frustrating, I’d thought, but the point was never that I was personally afraid of dying from the flu; it was that I didn’t want to be a freeloader anymore. I wanted to do my part for a healthy society, so that basically I wouldn’t get the flu and then infect some poor old person and then they die. I was trying to be, you know: a good and responsible citizen.

I have a good friend in New Hampshire (you know who you are), a healthy guy in his 40s, who still hasn’t gotten vacc’d because of this, that, and the other thing. The charitable version is he thinks the risks of COVID are overblown while the risks of the vaccine are still unknown. I don’t know, I just think he’s refusing to do the math and instead is being his stubborn, anti-establishment, independent New Hampshire self. Don’t you agree the drug companies profit from this fast-tracking? I don’t pretend to know how the vaccine approval process really works, but just look at the facts—the regulators are all likely captured by special interests, don’t you acknowledge that?

Well: I think my friend is freeloading on an otherwise responsible society, and on his otherwise responsible circle of friends, all of whom, to my knowledge, are now vaccinated. In any case, Delta don’t give a shit about the profit motives of drug companies. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize the thing, but it really is a cruel, little, mother-fucking infectious virus. Maybe a bit like the Joker in The Dark Knight, it just wants to watch the world burn, or set society up to fail, because society is corrupt and will destroy itself if given the chance.

So now I am supposed to wear a mask again, on the off chance I get infected (definitely possible, but as #teamPfizer I’m sure I’ll be fine) and then pass the virus on to someone who isn’t vaccinated. Pass it on to a freeloader. Someone who had just been planning to skate through this thing and let everyone else be the guinea pigs, I suppose. Someone in whom the virus could mutate again—a walking, unvaccinated variant factory, if you will. I’m supposed to help not let that happen. I’m supposed to look out for my fellow man and all that.

Well: I’m having trouble seeing it. Too lacking in empathy I guess. I’m not angry, exactly: but I have basically given up on them. They’re on their own, free to rail against the establishment, rail against the vaccines and the companies making them, rail against mask mandates and lockdowns, certain in their own reasonableness over the whole matter. Except that these people should be aware of something: the case law which allowed that DC public health lady to give me a legally enforceable choice between immediate, mandatory vaccination or quarantine (real quarantine, not these squishy half-measures we’ve all lived with) is the same case law that allows government officials to restrain people who walk down the street spraying bullets at their fellow Americans. Because you are free to own a weapon in this country and free to carry it around—but you are not free to go spraying contagious virus dropl—oh, excuse me, bullets, in every which direction as you go. So just know this: you can shout Live Free or Die all you want, but if the government wants to restrain you and force you to get vaccinated, it absolutely could, and it would be justified in doing so, because you are a risk to public health in the same way that a person walking down the street shooting a gun at people is a risk to public health. So the lawyers and the judges have determined.

My advice? Stop being a freeloader. Get the shot.