Failure to vaccinate increases risk to others as much as drunk driving

A public health professor at George Washington University and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University say that the choice to remain unvaccinated is a danger to others equivalent to driving while intoxicated.

“Some might balk at this comparison, but here are the similarities,” said Leana Wen, the public health professor at George Washington University, and Sam Wang, the Princeton University neuroscience professor. “Both causes of severe bodily harm are largely preventable — covid-19 through vaccination, and drunken driving by not driving after drinking alcohol. Both are individual decisions with societal consequences.”

“Both can cause substantial mortality, though deaths due to coronavirus far outstrip those due to drunken driving,” said Wen and Wang. “About 10,000 people die per year in impaired-driving accidents in the United States, less than the number who died from covid-19 last week alone. More than 650,000 Americans have succumbed to the virus thus far, which is more than all recorded intoxication-related fatalities in the last 40 years combined.”

Some critics have compared going unvaccinated to secondhand smoke–often considered an annoyance to others but not a major threat–which Wang says “is categorically false.”

Both foregoing vaccination and drunken driving can cause substantial mortality, although coronavirus deaths far outpace those due to drunken driving.

About 10,000 people die per year in impaired-driving accidents in the United States, less than the number who died from Covid-19 each week alone from August 21 through October 2.

More than 735,000 Americans have succumbed to the virus thus far, which is more than all recorded intoxication-related fatalities in the last 40 years combined.

In the case of coronavirus, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that vaccination reduces the risk of becoming infected by a factor of five and the risk of death by 11. This is comparable to the risk of a crash when driving drunk, which is 14 times higher than for a sober person.

“Some who argue that vaccination is solely a matter of individual choice would say that you can choose to protect yourself,” said Wen and Wang. “If you’re vaccinated, why do you care if others around you aren’t? But again, consider the analogy: Three out of every eight people killed are not the intoxicated driver, but their passengers or people in other vehicles. Similarly, with covid-19, the risk is borne not only by the person making the decision but also by others who cross their path.”

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