The New York Times reported Monday that we are unlikely to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 in the United States. It should be made clear that this is not some unavoidable fate, but a policy choice.

States can, and should, encourage higher rates of vaccination with incentives, such as West Virginia’s initiative to give $100 to young people who get vaccinated. If necessary, states should also impose fines on people who refuse vaccination.

There is precedent for this. In 1902 here in Cambridge, people who refused vaccination against smallpox were fined. This policy was litigated, with the Supreme Court ultimately upholding states’ rights to mandate vaccination in Jacobson v. Massachusetts.

By choosing not to exercise this right, the state is not choosing freedom – it’s merely prioritizing freedom for some over freedom for others. For example, people with compromised immune systems are vulnerable to more severe cases of Covid-19 and may not mount an effective immune response to vaccines. Their freedom to have any kind of public life hinges on herd immunity.

Mandating vaccination is a better policy, as the consequences will be borne by those who have made the choice to endanger their neighbors by forgoing vaccination.

Rachel Wigell, Madison Avenue

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