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Honoring Vaccination Status is the Next Step in Social Justice

It has been a long 16 months, and I think we can all agree we’d like to move on with our lives. This past year has challenged not only our health and safety, but also our jobs, our finances, our relationships, our marriages and our faith. As restrictions begin to lift, it is only natural that we want to begin planning events, seeing friends and gathering with people in person again.

For many, it’s as simple as getting vaccinated. Once you’ve received your COVID vaccine, CDC says you’re basically safe to resume normal life activities. But according to the New York Times, “the pace of vaccinations has slowed, and a substantial share of Americans — close to one third — remain hesitant about getting a shot.”

The CDC data tracker show that currently 51.3% of all Americans over the age of 12 are vaccinated. You can, of course, see this as a positive — that half our population is now fully vaccinated. But people who are medically vulnerable may not see it in a positive light quite yet. There is still much unknown for those who identify as immunocompromised, and the CDC states that, “if you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may not be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking all precautions.” These precautions include continuing to wear a mask, social distancing and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

So while life may resume a sense of normalcy for the typically healthy, that is a privilege not afforded to the immunocompromised, even after being fully vaccinated. And with 51.3% of Americans now being fully vaccinated, that still means almost half (or one out of every two people) is not vaccinated, putting the medically vulnerable at even greater risk.

How does this relate to social justice?

The medically vulnerable are now (if they weren’t before) a marginalized community. They are the ones who have been the most isolated over the last 16 months and who are at risk of being the most ostracized moving forward in regard to resuming normal life activities.

While the pandemic came at a cost for all of us, there are those who did not see anyone outside their immediate household for more than a year, unless it involved a computer screen and internet connection. The effect that level of isolation has on a person’s mental health can be grave.

Many churches are beginning to resume in-person services, and many organizations are in the planning stages of their next conference or event. But what is being done to protect the most vulnerable so that the immunocompromised are not left behind?

“Moving forward, I urge you to create your COVID policies with the most vulnerable in mind.”

Moving forward, I urge you to create your COVID policies with the most vulnerable in mind. And I strongly encourage you to require proof of vaccination for your events. Wild Goose Festival is leading the way in this justice movement by requiring proof of vaccination to attend their four-day festival this fall. The fact that it is also outdoors makes it much safer for the medically vulnerable to attend.

There are other faith and social justice conferences, however, that are marketing their events with no clear COVID policy currently outlined. Since the majority of these events take place indoors, this immediately puts the immunocompromised at greater risk. Without requiring proof of vaccination, even if the medically vulnerable are fully vaccinated, it forces them to make a risky choice between continued isolation and deteriorating mental health, or exposing themselves to a potentially fatal encounter.

By not requiring proof of vaccination for future events (especially those that claim to advocate for social justice), we are limiting access and prioritizing the healthy. Even more than that, we are prioritizing those who are not vaccinated over those who are most medically at risk. This is not social justice or equity. This is convenience for the privileged.

“Simply telling the immunocompromised to wear a mask is a cop-out at best.”

Simply telling the immunocompromised to wear a mask is a cop-out at best. Many who are medically at risk are those who struggle most with wearing a mask, not because they are anti-maskers (quite the opposite!), but because of respiratory issues that accompany their illnesses. It also once again puts the burden on the marginalized instead of on the majority.

Requiring proof of vaccination is not a political statement. It’s a health and safety statement. It’s a social justice statement. It’s an equity and “love your neighbor” statement.

I encourage you to be up front about it. Be transparent. Be obvious. If a person has to search for answers on your website as to how you’re protecting people (similar to if they have to search for whether you’re LGBTQ affirming), they already have their answer.

Fight to protect the marginalized. For many, their actual survival may depend on it. *This column was originally posted on Baptist News Global.

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