In this March 26, 2021, file photo, a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to a person at a vaccination site at a Salvation Army location in Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Rourke / AP

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Bill Farthing of Bangor is an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Maine.

In the April 29 BDN, columnist Matt Gagnon asks, in regard to the COVID pandemic and government-imposed restrictions: When will all this be over? When can we return to normal?

He dismisses various criteria that have been suggested, such as reducing deaths to a low point, because the government has not specified a precise goal. He dismisses science-based criteria because various governors have drawn different conclusions from the science, or have ignored the science altogether.

Gagnon concludes that “the only logical line is with vaccine availability. Once the vaccines are available to anyone who wants them … there is no longer any reason why there should be restrictions in place. At that moment, anyone who chooses not to get the vaccine has made a decision about their own health …Those who wish to protect themselves will be able, and those that want to roll the dice can do that too.”

The problem with Gagnon’s conclusion is that it ignores social responsibility. It advocates selfish individualism. In effect it says “I don’t want to get vaccinated and I am willing to take the risk for myself, and I don’t give a damn if I end up infecting — and possibly killing — other people.” The other people at risk include not only those who choose not to be vaccinated, but also those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, and the small percent of people for whom the vaccination is not effective in preventing COVID.

My conclusion is that we need to reach herd immunity for COVID, as the country did years ago with vaccines for polio and measles. Let’s not quibble at this point over whether herd immunity means 80 percent or 90 percent of the population vaccinated. We still have a long way to go because of vaccination refusers.

If we cannot persuade people to be vaccinated on the basis of self interest and social responsibility, then it may be necessary to offer cash incentives for vaccinations, to refuse public transportation — including air travel — to the unvaccinated, and to allow employers to refuse employment to the unvaccinated.