A Certain “Freedom” Has Costs

As many pundits and non-pundits have pointed out, freedom isn’t free. And most people would agree. But what is seldom discussed are the costs of various freedoms.

Freedom of speech, for example, means that I get deluged with unwanted and unordered advertising mail. It means that political demagogues can assert that falsehoods are true. It means I have to spend money in court to stop someone from falsely libeling me, or at the least pay an attorney.

But there’s a new form of “freedom” being extolled that’s also far more costly, especially on others. And that’s the so-called freedom not to obey public health mandates, currently being pushed by anti-vaxxers, particularly COVID-anti-vaxxers. Since vaccinations reduce the chance of being hospitalized for COVID by close to 90%, those who don’t get vaccinated place enormous costs and strain on the health care system and those who staff it, as well as additional costs on their own families and neighbors.

A study by the Peterson-KFF Health System calculated that the additional hospital health care costs created by unvaccinated individuals being treated for COVID, just for the period from July 1, 2021 to November 30, 2021, was almost $14 billion. The cost for hospital treatment of COVID patients can range from around $11,000 to well over $300,000, but comes out to average between $20,000 to $25,000 per patient, according to various studies. Other reputable studies peg the average costs more in the $40,000 per patient range. These figures don’t include follow-up visits or the costs associated with long COVID. In addition, unvaccinated individuals hospitalized with COVID had a 10% higher rate of complications, which increased their costs of treatment.

And these costs don’t just fall on the unvaccinated individuals. Some costs fall on insurers, who will cover those costs by raising premiums on everyone. Other costs will fall on family members because insurance and government programs don’t cover all COVID medical expenses. The costs of treating uninsured or underinsured unvaccinated individuals will require increased fees on others or funding from government sources… or in some cases, closure of the health facility.

Then, when hospitals are filled with largely unvaccinated COVID patients, those hospitals won’t have enough space or staff to treat urgent non-COVID patients, or not to treat them as quickly or effectively.

The increasing number of unvaccinated COVID patients is also taking a toll on doctors and skilled nursing staff, with a workload and stress level that makes them more vulnerable to breakthrough COVID and other opportunistic infections. In turn, over time, that reduces the level of care for all patients, which means that those comparative few vaccinated COVID patients, usually older people or immune-compromised individuals have to suffer more as a result of the “freedom” of the unvaccinated not to be vaccinated.

So…for those of you “freedom-loving” anti-vaxxers, your so-called freedom isn’t free. You’re just imposing the costs on everyone else… and, in my book, that’s called “freeloading,” not freedom.

11 thoughts on “A Certain “Freedom” Has Costs”

  1. Christopher Robin says:

    Its this type of perception that completely undermines the freedom envisioned at the beginning of the country. European thought at that time generally espoused a monarchical system in large part because they believed the common people were incapable of self-government. The population simply wasn’t self-disciplined and educated enough to handle the responsibility of rule. This is why Americans took such fierce pride in their accomplishments in the colonies. Freedom required looking out for more than just yourself. Your freedom meant you had the ability to exercise a responsibility to your community. They didn’t need a monarch or noble to tell them what to do because they could do it themselves.

    A key worry that the founding fathers consistently expressed in their writings was a departure from Virtue. While Virtue, by their understanding, contained many facets, the core component was the importance of the people being responsible citizens that could look beyond themselves and their own immediate needs. Jefferson especially espoused this concern repeatedly and predicted it would ultimately be the downfall of the country. For some reason many today view freedom in a purely individual sense which in many ways is the opposite of how a prosperous democracy works.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    The responsible thing is to get vaccinated unless your MD says you’ve got some specific reason you shouldn’t, follow all the required or recommended precautions, plus common sense and courtesy, plus as much restraint as circumstances reasonably allow without excessive adverse effect on others or self (e.g. work as much as you can of how much you normally would, and patronize what you usually would, perhaps at less busy hours, IF you can do so those things safely; the stresses and strains of it are problems of each individual, not particularly the problem of the collective save perhaps for some in critical positions that may need a bit of support).

    That said, WE ARE NOT STATE PROPERTY. The collective can go unprintable itself, I have ZERO responsibility beyond staying home if I know I’m sick to anyone else’s health, and I expect no more from them on my behalf; nor do I take for granted emergency room access or a paramedic; if I’m dying, just pick up my corpse at your convenience. Nobody should be able to command us to get vaccinated, no matter how many billion $ or thousands or millions of lives might be saved. NO COST JUSTIFIES COMMANDING FREE PEOPLE, certainly not for periods longer than 30-90 days (and not repeatedly), regardless of the duration of the threat. If it lasts longer than that, it’s not an emergency, it’s an adaptation.

    At worst, at overloaded hospitals, turn away unvaccinated COVID patients and require them to live or die at home. Fools should suffer NATURAL consequences, but should RETAIN their right to be fools. Darwin, bring it!

    And there IS an alternative: a whole lot more transparency, NOT lying to manipulate outcomes (one blatant example: “you don’t need masks” early when they were scarce and needed to be reserved for medical care personnel and first responders, changing to “any mask is better than nothing” (or “you MUST wear a mask”) then recently to the more realistic “get the best mask you can”), EXPLAINING changes to advice (it’s NOT hard to explain that as one learns, the advice may change), etc. The best available information updated regularly, not commands, not propaganda, is the ONLY legitimate answer. Be honest and candid about difficult things, like if scarce resources mean something must be reserved for where it makes the biggest difference rather than being available immediately to all. Gross incompetence in communication, esp. by a certain NIAID Director, put us in a situation where even fairly reasonable people not otherwise skeptical may have difficulty trusting guidance.

    Give people information honestly and as promptly as initial verification can be done, and most of them probably will CHOOSE to do the right thing. That should be the objective, INFORMED citizens CHOOSING to be responsible, not commanded subjects. The difference IS worth blood and treasure!

    PS had all three shots (Pfizer) plus flu shot, plus living alone and being mostly crowd-avoiding even without a pandemic; still got omicron (not sure when, there was one admittedly sold out but fully masked venue seating under 1K attendees, but the time doesn’t quite fit that). It wasn’t bad, wouldn’t have guessed that it was other than slightly worse usual seasonal sinus cold (although I did stay home except for occasional drive-through food) except that it temporarily knocked out my sense of smell and taste almost entirely*. Did the shots make it less severe? Probably to some degree, and given that by age, weight, and as an ex-smoker I’m not exactly low risk, I think I placed my bets wisely. But that was MY choice. Aside from the few that know me (which aren’t at risk because I seldom see anyone in person), it’s nobody’s business whether I do well or poorly.

    * there are suggestions that may help restore sense of smell: a swab and castor oil is multiply mentioned, and a variety of stimulus to at least help recalibrate new input to match memory; no guarantees with such DIY measures, but if it will come back, that might speed and improve the quality of the result.

    1. Postagoras says:

      It must be nice to live in your world where your beliefs are universally followed, but the rest of us live where we can’t wave magic wands and make policy. We have to reach a consensus among all sorts of people.
      It’s interesting to hear from your world, but it’s no help to anyone. Like it or not, there’s a social compact in our society where fools are not asked to pay with their lives for their foolishness. So it’s worthwhile to hear Mr. Modesitt point out the cost of that foolishness.
      I hear your point, that to you, the freedom to be foolish outweighs the cost to society. You’ve made that point over and over again in your posts. But, to borrow your tactic of yelling, THAT’S NOT HOW THIS SOCIETY OPERATES.
      Making a “free choice” to be sick and having everyone else pick up the tab is a kind of freedom, but it’s also freeloading. Emphasizing the cost of this “freedom” is how our society makes policy, by sharing information and reaching a consensus.

      1. Tom says:

        Unfortunately in our increasingly forced march towards a lack of any agreement, this is likely to be “how our society operates”. The real price of individual sovereignty is tyranny.

        The founding fathers of the US tried to form a Union out of the The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. The Articles envisioned a permanent confederation but granted to the Congress—the only federal institution—little power to organize a nation. We the people have failed to understand that a nation is based on individuals who co-operate to form a secure economic and social structure able to protect its citizens from enemies external and internal. The secure economic and social structure needs to involve every individual as part of the unified structure of a nation. If there is no unified legally inter-dependent structure – there can be no nation.

        Achieving a Union or Confederacy is difficult for humans as the EU and the UK, and now the US, have found out. It is very difficult for the us to accept the fact that all individual humans are dependent if they wish to live with other humans. We seemingly cannot accept the fact that dependence does not mean loss of individuality.

        1. R. Hamilton says:

          No, the real price of tyranny is tyranny.

          You probably don’t need me, and I probably don’t need you. That isn’t divisive, it’s a fact that could be acknowledged politely leaving us to go our very separate ways. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t stop to help, but I AM NOT BEHOLDEN TO THE COLLECTIVE.

          Obviously unless I grow my own food etc, I am a little “dependent”. I’m not talking about that. I’m probably LESS risk to anyone in a pandemic than most, because even without one, give or take a mask I behave like there was one, getting every dang shot that’s recommended, distancing and sanitizing, etc. I’ve been told I did social distancing long before it was cool. OTOH I’m careful at least in part because I assume everyone else is a dangerous idiot until proven otherwise, so I don’t expect everyone else to be careful for my sake. But I want everyone that dares command free people to be removed from office and politics and any opportunity of trust until such time if any as they learn not to do that, and I want those who disagree to read Patrick Henry until they understand why I say that.

          Freedom doesn’t mean we all have our own private islands, but it means that even at some risk to ourselves, we cannot expect that others should be compelled to be sensible and responsible, only that if specific consequences follow, someone gets arrested if a crime was actually committed.

  3. Steve says:

    Although the relative risk reduction for hospitalization from omicron variant is 90%, the absolute risk reduction is only 0.3% at age 10yr and 2.5% at 50yr. Most of those patients will have comorbid illness such as obesity, diabetes, or lung disease. The risk of hospitalization from omicron to healthy individuals under age 50yr is very small. The finding that vaccination doesn’t prevent (or even reduce?) transmission of omicron negates a call for socially responsible vaccination. The benefit of Covid vaccination in the young and healthy can logically be debated.

    The increased risks of behavioral health problems such as obesity or smoking related disease (COPD,CAD,PVD) eclipse any vaccine related benefit. The absolute risk increases can be 3%-10% or even higher for hospitalization with comorbidity. Shall we round up fatties and place them on government mandated diets? Will we force entry into the homes of smokers and confiscate their tobacco and marijuana? Will we spy on diabetics and ensure they eat only low glycemic index foods? Maybe we could restrain them and inject what we think the proper amount of insulin for them is. What about the slothful? How do we whip them into shape? Short of literally whipping them can we get them up off of their couches? Is it OK to whip them if we love them and want to help them be safe? Can we whip them if we secretly despise them for their sloth and fear that their weakness and disease might spring forth in ourselves?

    To be fair I believe that vaccines in general, and the sars-Cov-2 vaccines specifically are a blessing. They are safe and somewhat effective vaccines. My wife, children and I are all fully vaccinated and boosted. I am a man of science. I do not associate with anti-vaxxers, witches, chiropractic or homeopaths. However I will not arrest them, brand them, put them in stocks or chains, or force upon them potions or injections. I will leave it to my big D Democrat brothers to rape the unvaccinated with their needles.

    1. You and R. Hamilton are “conveniently” missing the points. First, there are significant costs imposed on society. Why should I be taxed because people want to exert freedom from what for 99 plus percent of the population is at most an inconvenience? In addition, you’re making a false comparison between vaccines and forcing people not to smoke or to diet. There’s also a real risk to older individuals who don’t smoke, drink excessively, and whose only co-morbidity is their age. And your comment about “forcing potions” on people certainly doesn’t sound much like a true “man of science,” but more like a man who only applies science when it suits him, and that’s not what real science is about.

      1. K. Lorenz says:

        I completely agree with Mr. Modesitt on his reasoning and pointing out the poor logic of some submitters to these discussions.

        I would also like to point out the (to me) poor representation of this issue by those who are anti-mandate. As far as I know not one of the so called mandates are such that a citizen is rounded up, strapped down, and injected with a vaccine (so called raped – truly amazing!). All these mandates provide an either/or scenario to those subject to it. Get the vaccine, or be subject to periodic or situational testing. Get the vaccine, or forfeit the right to participate in this activity or group.

        These guidances or regulations are no different than nearly everything else in life one meets at some point. I, for one, was told by my parents to clean my plate at dinner. It was a mandate, because I couldn’t leave the table until I made an honest effort to do so. I am thankful for that stand by my parents as I have a great appreciation for the range and value of foods and take little for granted on that front.

        Taken to another level, all (organized) sports have mandates in terms of rules for play, participation, and sportsmanship. Either participate within those guidelines or pick up your ball and go home. Usually, it is children that cry at the ‘unfairness’ of these rules.

        There are countless, I repeat countless, examples of these instances in life for people living in the USA and all over the world.

        Sigh. It appears that children are not the only subset of people that have difficulty understanding how to play and work well with others.

        So far, I’m happy to report there is no national effort to remove licensing requirements on automobile drivers – yet. But who knows where we might head in the near future with making a cultural war issue out of enything and everything. Bonus points for hitting that pedestrian in the intersection?

      2. Steve says:

        1. Your point is that a simple, safe, effective, and cost effective medical intervention can prevent or reduce millions of unnecessary deaths, untold suffering, and astronomical economic costs. It requires a large percentage (perhaps all) of people to be socially responsible and be vaccinated so we may achieve not only individual immunity but also herd immunity.

        2.”Why should I be taxed because…” can be used as an argument against any tax or action you don’t like whether from the right or the left. Just fill in the blank with your legislative pet peeve. There are significant costs to many things such as infrastructure, research, public education, healthcare, public assistance, communications, transportation, music and the arts, etc. Why should anyone have to pay for any of it? Because we follow the laws enacted by our elected representatives.

        3. You are correct to point out that age is a risk over which we do not have control but obesity and smoking are completely modifiable. An individual may be unsuccessful without coercion or force, but it is possible, and the force required to effect weight loss and smoking cessation can be equated with forced vaccination. It is simply a matter of how much power we are willing to give our government.

        4. Injection is the reference to the vaccine, not potion. Potions are given orally. My comment is satire sprinkled with devil’s advocacy. I was outrageously comparing requiring vaccinations with ways in which people were deprived of their liberties in the past. With potions I was thinking of the evils forced upon those with mental illness by government and institutions under the guise of “treatment”.

        5. The elderly and those who have relevant illness unassociated with lifestyle and behaviors are for whom I was vaccinated. However someone more selfish, or simply with different life experience and priorities might logically argue that the elderly’s right to reduce their exposure risk does not trump the right to physical autonomy. This is similar to the argument that a life or potential life does not trump the autonomy of the pregnant person. It may be OK to be the proximate cause of termination of the pregnancy or the elderly in order to maintain freedom of choice. How nice, pro-choice and anti-vax have something in common.

        6. Personal attacks are beneath you. I refrained from personal attack germane to you and this topic.

        7. Finally, I wonder if you could steel man my argument. The poster below cannot seem to get beyond “get vaccinated or get out”. The best balance between morbidity/mortality and freedom/economic recovery might have more death and heartache than some individuals would choose. I don’t have the answer, but I will gladly argue the other side for fun, and more importantly, to learn!

        PS: The Aussie below laments debate. Debate is how you sharpen, or change, your position. Your fear of differing ideas, possibly better ideas, and the chance to be convinced limits you.

      3. R. Hamilton says:

        Why should there be costs? Stop requiring emergency rooms to treat everyone! Let the unvaccinated with severe COVID be quarantined to live or die, their own choice made them expendable, but it IS THEIR CHOICE.

        Everyone sensible should be doing all they can to protect THEMSELVES and those close to them, incidentally but not of primary purpose also protecting others; but it is not my particular responsibility to protect others nor theirs to protect me. (and if one is going to mask, a properly fitting N95 is useful whereas a cloth mask just stops huge slimy droplets) Nor is it government’s job to mandate either good sense or an approximation in terms of a list of required behaviors. It’s merely government’s job to mandate REFRAINING from a short list of behaviors and doing something about those who don’t.

        And sooner or later, Darwin or the Grim Reaper will come for us all whether we all look out for one another to the greatest recommended extent or not. I don’t want to speed that for anyone (give or take convicted felons and terrorists), esp. those I hope to see more books from. 🙂 But AT MOST, I am only my brother’s keeper if it’s someone I actually have met and know personally, not for every stranger in the country or in existence nor for people I make every effort to be more than six feet from anyway. And realistically there are too many who have escaped the consequences of their behavioral co-morbidities for too long as it is, we’re getting weak and there are too many of us. Death is also part of life, and performs a useful service, however understandably unpopular it might be.

        But from the looks of it, omicron will get most of us, it got me despite precautions exceeding requirement or recommendation, or so I suspect. That too might be a good thing, if a more dangerous variant doesn’t replace it, and it becomes merely endemic rather than pandemic. In the long run, a microorganism “succeeds” by reproducing, which is more effectively done when it kills less of its hosts, so one can at least hope for that outcome.

        I expect that in the long run, flu and COVID vaccines will be combined, with yearly updates to both to target multiple strains of each. I’ll take ’em, but I STILL expect those proposing mandates to be removed, whether by ballot or other procedure.

  4. Michael Creek says:

    Sigh! Another post that documents the fissures in American society. Here in Australia, we are experiencing an immense wave of Omicron infection. This wave is having very bad economic effects in that supply chains are being disrupted by isolation rules being applied to “close contacts” in workplaces. Yet, most of us that contract the disease only have mild symptoms and hospitilisation rates, ICU rates and death rates are low. We credit this to Adult Australia, as a whole, having a 93% 2 dose vaccination rate. We are now working on booster shots for adults, 3 months after completion of their 2nd dose and on vaccination of children from 5 up. The political debate from the left is about Federal Government not being proactive enough in supplying PPE and RATs. Vaccine denial is a very small, but noisy, proportion of the population. On the question of vaccine mandates, yes there have been, vaccine mandates imposed by state governments and by some companies. Usually, these involve orders that, to continue working in, for example, health, then by a certain date, workers need to be fully immunised. Various appeals by small numbers of the recalcitrant are weaving their way through our legal system.
    The Novak Djokovic case and the public uproar about an attempt to evade our vaccination rules illustrates the strong support of a huge majority of our population for full vaccination. It’s safe and effective. Ultimately, it was one of the few things that President Trump got right, with some fumbles.

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