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COMMENTARY: Balancing individual rights with love for fellow man
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COMMENTARY: Balancing individual rights with love for fellow man

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Last week’s meeting of the Culpeper Board of Supervisors included a discussion of two resolutions drafted at the direction of Supervisor Tom Underwood.

The first resolution would have the county refuse to impose vaccine mandates on county employees if so ordered by the federal government, and the second was to deny county funding of any non-governmental agencies who impose vaccine mandates on their employees.

One such entity is the Culpeper Wellness Foundation, so several board members and our president were in attendance to listen to the discussion.

The Culpeper Star-Exponent article by Allison Brophy Champion, ”Culpeper County board won’t support anti-vax resolutions,” accurately related the board discussion including quotes from Mr. Underwood that at times sounded theatric, inane and bullying in nature. Such an exchange might at times be viewed as comedic relief, but the issue under consideration is too important to leave without further comment and providing the necessary context.

As a Family Physician for over 30 years in Culpeper, I always valued my relationship with patients and the trust that was implied by that relationship. Today, however, information sources such as Facebook, Twitter and targeted mass media undermine professional training, experience, and common sense.

There has always been a small percentage of our society that has been ‘anti-vax’. What is different now is that social media algorithms allow a virtual echo chamber for misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist rhetoric to become mainstream. If one sees something or hears something often enough, it is human nature to believe it must be true. At best we have become indifferent to its source, at worst, we relish it and weaponize it for personal or political gain.

Mr. Underwood’s resolutions specifically targeted the Culpeper Wellness Foundation. Underwood said on Facebook, “I will do all I can to assure that Powell Wellness has no place in Culpeper until they apologize.”

With the increased incidence of Covid-19 illness from the delta variant this summer, the Board of Directors of the Culpeper Wellness Foundation was tasked with addressing the question of mandating vaccines for our employees. With ‘wellness’ as our middle name, the well-being and safety of our community is paramount, and that was the focus of our discussion.

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With a good representation of business and professional members from our community on our board, the varying opinions and concerns were shared freely and without political or personal distractions. What was truly unique was no vote was taken at the meeting. Board members were asked to take 48 hours to digest what they heard, seek additional information, pray for discernment and vote when they felt comfortable with their decision.

By a large majority, the board voted to initiate a vaccine mandate for employees. Adequate time for vaccination was allowed, and exemptions were considered for medical or religious grounds. With this action, I wonder how many in our community were encouraged to get the vaccine, and how many families were spared the pain from unnecessary illness or death?

The language of Underwood’s resolutions seeks to establish credibility with overworked reference to ‘constitutional rights’. I am no constitutional scholar but I did have to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution in 8th grade civics class.

Among the reasons enumerated by “We the people” for establishing our constitutional government were “to provide for the common defense, (and) promote the general welfare.”

I can think of no better example than a pandemic as an opportunity for elected government officials to take the necessary measures that promote the general welfare.

I don’t care to have my rights infringed any more than the next person, but I am willing to recognize that I have responsibilities to assume in order to exercise those rights. The balancing of individual rights with individual responsibilities has largely been absent in the community of vaccine resistance.

As a Christian, I take my faith seriously, and I seek to respect the faith of others. We live in an age of differing interpretations of biblical scripture and a diversity of religion in our country.

There is one sure principle, however, that should instruct all faiths and transcend all differences if we would only put it in practice. For my Christian faith, it is found in both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, where we are admonished to “Love thy neighbor as thyself’.

In the spirit of applying that teaching to the vaccination conversation, I would humbly propose a new resolution (below) for the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors’ consideration, being affirmative and apolitical, and representing what I believe to be responsible governing and a reasonable expectation of putting faith into action.

Dr. Mort Chiles practiced family medicine with Culpeper Family Practice for 30 years, retiring to serve as the first chief medical officer for Culpeper Hospital, 2009-2015. He is now a medical examiner for Culpeper with the Virginia Department of Health.

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