By CHRIS POWELL
Look who has just signed up for the politically correct speech police in Connecticut – not, as usual, more sanctimonious Democrats but two prominent Republicans, just so they could take a cheap shot at Governor Lamont.
Answering questions from news reporters at the state Capitol last week, Lamont spoke about state government employees who might claim a religious objection to his administration's order that they get vaccinated against COVID-19. Of the religious claim, Lamont asked: "Is this something that is being exploited, or is this a very small group of Mother Teresas who come forward and feel deeply?"
Scolding the governor, the leader of the state Senate's Republican minority, Kevin Kelly of Stratford, said Mother Teresa, a saint of the Catholic Church, should not be "denigrated as a joke or used as a veiled sarcastic insult."
Chris Healy, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference and a former Republican state chairman, said Lamont had portrayed the saint as "some kind of eccentric character" so he could "demean people of legitimate faith."
While Lamont indeed had been sarcastic, he had not denigrated the saint or "people of legitimate faith." No, his sarcasm was directed at those who claim that their religion forbids vaccination. But there is no religion – at least not as religion long has been commonly understood – that forbids vaccination, not even Christian Science.
Opposition to vaccination may be claimed as personal morality, and personal morality may be considered a sort of religion. But that kind of religion can be construed to excuse anything, including crime, racial discrimination, and refusal to pay taxes.
Of course the world is full of wonderful jokes that draw on religious references without doing any harm. Even Kelly and Healy may have laughed at a few of them, at least when they were not striving to strike a pompous pose.
Quite apart from dubious religious claims, there are perfectly rational reasons to object to vaccination and particularly the COVID-19 vaccines.
First, perhaps, is that since the shots use new technology, they are not traditional vaccines and as a practical matter are really still experimental. Even now they remain authorized by government as an "emergency" measure.
Many of their side-effects were discovered only after government's "emergency" authorization put them into general use. Other side-effects may still be discovered. Because the COVID-19 vaccines are so new, their long-term impacts can't be known.
Additionally, as shown by the clamor about "booster" vaccinations, the long-term efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines is also unknown and increasingly in question, even as effective treatments for the virus are increasingly available, making vaccination less compelling. Lately in Connecticut new cases of infection have not been matched by rising deaths and hospitalizations. On any day there may be more than a thousand new positive virus tests but hospitalizations decline.
It's all a matter of balancing risks, and dragging religion into the calculation is mainly a mechanism for precluding discussion.
But the governor did seem to get something wrong in his comments last week on state employees who refuse vaccination.
“There will be some people who say ‘hell no,'" Lamont said, "and I'm sorry but that means you're not safe. You're not safe to the people around you and you're not safe to the people you're treating.”
That sounded like an assertion that people vaccinated for COVID-19 can't infect others. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has acknowledged that vaccinated people can be infected and can spread infection even when they show no symptoms. Lately a quarter of Connecticut's hospital patients being treated for the virus were fully vaccinated before getting sick – that is, "breakthrough" infections.
This doesn't nullify the benefits of vaccination, especially for people more at risk of serious illness, like the elderly. It does mean that unvaccinated people are not the only source of risk in the workplace.
The most secure system of preventing infection might regularly test the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated – if, of course, COVID-19 really must continue to be treated like the medieval plagues instead of an ailment from which 99.8% of the infected recover.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.