Speed Reads

historical precedent

How the quest for COVID-19 vaccine exemptions mirrors the Vietnam War draft

Last week, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted on whether certain people should receive COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, ultimately landing on high-risk groups and people over the age of 65. On Wednesday, another advisory panel, this time for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will gather to determine whom they think belongs to those at-risk groups. Arthur Caplan, a New York University bioethicist, writes in Stat News that a similar, albeit more localized, approach should be taken to determine who does not have to receive coronavirus vaccines, boosters or otherwise.

In his piece, Caplan compares the quest for vaccine exemptions to attempts to avoid the Vietnam War draft, noting the "uncanny" overlap in certain strategies, such as "sudden religiosity" — for example, back then, many people tried to join the Quakers or other anti-war faiths, although Caplan also notes that organized religion often didn't play as big a role as "individual claims of religious piety." 

Many Vietnam objectors also sought health exemptions, another path individuals are taking today to avoid the shots. Caplan writes that the "rich and successful" were often more successful at this in the '60s and '70s since they could find doctors "willing to fudge."

The big difference between the two situations is that 4,000 local draft boards were created to determine whether individual Vietnam objections were legitimate. It's time to do the same for in regards to vaccines, Caplan argues. "Simply allowing individuals to claim whatever they wish to avoid resolving a plague or for that matter government required service in a war is not good public policy," he writes. Read Caplan's full piece at Stat News.