“A Personal Decision”
There is this idea in the United States that healthcare is entirely a personal matter. In a country that values individual rights so highly, this is quite consistent with the American spirit. After all, if someone can own as many guns as they want, they should also be able to choose what they do with their bodies. This type of idea is enshrined by an important law: HIPAA (pronounced “HIP-uh”). The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 required doctors to maintain high standards of confidentiality. HIPAA is an onerous piece of data protection legislation that came into effect 21 years before Europe’s GDPR. Its “Privacy Rule” helps ensure that healthcare entities (hospitals, doctors offices) protect the sensitive healthcare information of private individuals. This strict protection of privacy falls in line with the idea that healthcare data is extremely personal, but sometimes personal autonomy clashes with public good. As we have witnessed over the last year and a half, pandemics necessitate personal sacrifice.
Despite protections for health-related data, the US as a whole is not a country that emphasises bodily autonomy. “My body, my choice”, which has traditionally been a rallying cry for pro-choice advocates, has been co-opted by vaccine deniers. But abortion is still a hotly contested issue, and abortion’s status as a constitutionally protected right seems to be hanging out by a thread given the current composition of the Supreme Court. Likewise, Americans cannot buy any drug they want—marijuana is still illegal in much of the country—because politicians control drugs and abortion access in the name of public good. If people choose to deny public good in favour of personal freedoms, they can do so, but there are often consequences. In the case of drugs, that can mean jail time. In the case of refusing to comply with vaccine mandates, that can mean losing one’s job.
In recent weeks, several high-profile people in the sporting world have put their careers on the line because of vaccine mandates. ESPN Reporter Allison Williams quit her job over the vaccine mandate citing fertility concerns (those concerns are widespread, but no links have been found between jabs and fertility issues). Even if her concerns are based on misinformation, if she genuinely believes this misinformation, then I can understand why she chose to quit. But one recent case leaves me scratching my head: Nick Rolovich, the former head coach of the Washington State University football team.
Head coaching gigs, especially for state schools, are considered some of the country’s best jobs. People not only earn massive amounts, but in most states, football coaches at state universities are the highest-paid public employees in that state. Public employees have generous incentives and retirement packages, so Rolovich’s 3 million USD annual salary is absurd. With that kind of salary, a few years of work guarantees wealth for one’s family for generations. As state employees, Rolovich and four of his employees were required to get vaccinated to comply with a state mandate. They did not, so they were fired for cause, meaning that Rolovich will not receive the contractually guaranteed 10 million USD that he was set to receive by the end of 2025.
I am not Nick Rolovich. Therefore, I cannot speak to his motives. I do know that he sought a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate but would not publicly specify his religious views. Moreover, he mentioned in August that he would find a way to comply with the vaccine mandate. His repeated refusal, and the ensuing media frenzy, became an increasingly large distraction for the team as the mandate compliance deadline drew near. Eventually, his “personal issue” led him to become a public vaccine martyr. If someone is willing to give up over 10 million USD, I can only imagine how many other martyrs there are in workplaces across America.