WILLIAMSVILLE — Americans who object to wearing a mask, claiming it's an infringement on their civil rights, are not patriots no matter how many flags they pin to their lapels.
The Bill of Rights enumerates our protected freedoms, but nowhere does it grant a citizen the right to harm others. Wearing a mask helps prevent the wearer from infecting others.
The same goes for vaccines.
Unlike masks, the vaccine protects the vaccinated individual from severe illness. But if people assert their individual freedom by refusing a vaccine, it would still be unpatriotic because it would still be harmful to others - and the economy.
For the vaccine to be effective enough to return to a resemblance of the pre-pandemic normal, we need herd immunity. Herd immunity only occurs when everyone who can be immunized is.
Patriots get vaccines.
A patriot “loves and supports his or her country,” according to Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher. “Today, active fighting or resistance is not a requirement to being a patriot: a person only needs a strong sense of love for one's country.”
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Patriotism also invokes altruism, the “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others,” according to the same dictionary.
We've seen a lot of altruism lately: all the frontline hospital workers at the epicenters of the outbreak; all the people facing the public in grocery stores, food pantries, soup kitchens, and so many more.
In fact, anyone who has followed the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and individual states in order to reduce the risk of exposure and the risk of spreading the disease to others has been altruistic this past year.
But not everyone has done so.
This past year, we have suffered the bellicose haranguing of self-proclaimed patriots with a misguided sense of individualism, people who have behaved as if they are entitled to do as they please without regard to the common good.
But the common good matters - especially if we want to stop the pandemic and reopen commerce and communities.
Make no mistake: Those who decline to get vaccinated are contributing to the longevity of the pandemic just as those who refuse to wear masks are prolonging the lockdown and hindering the reopening of the economy.
The day will come when we can take our masks off, and that day will come sooner if everyone who can be vaccinated is.
Getting vaccinated is not only safe and necessary. It's also an opportunity to do something for others: those in your family, your community, the nation, and the world.
Be altruistic: get a vaccine. And until we reach herd immunity: be a patriot, and wear a mask.