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Gabriel Karam, a lifelong Bangor resident, works at a local bank while pursuing his master’s degree. He was the University of Maine’s Outstanding 2020 Graduate within the College of Business.

With over 45 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and over 317 million vaccine doses administered, normalcy may be near. Employers, universities and state governments are considering mandating COVID vaccines in order to maximize safety and create herd immunity. According to The Washington Post, over 380 universities have joined select travel companies and employers in mandating COVID-19 vaccinations.

Several universities and colleges in Maine have already required vaccinations. Some legal experts believe that Maine employers could begin requiring vaccination. Despite numerous benefits existing from voluntary vaccination, the State House and organizations in the state should allow people the choice of receiving the vaccine.

Generally, COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and FDA approved for emergency use. In late April, the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved resumption of usage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination after investigating a blood clotting problem.

However, there are mild, and occasionally severe, side effects from the vaccination. The World Health Organization states that mild side effects include fever, muscle aches, pain, fatigue, headache and chills. The CDC states that, while rare, serious symptoms may include dangerous allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), blood clots and possible long-term side effects. Additionally, a study by the National Institutes of Health confirms that certain individuals are allergic to vaccination ingredients, or have physiologies that “disagree” with vaccines. states that the three COVID vaccinations have received an emergency use authorization instead of the standard full licensure. Certain vaccine recipients have still contracted COVID, or experienced life-threatening heart complications. Reasonable apprehension is understandable, due to the lower testing requirements and newer developments of vaccination health concerns, especially in women.

While the FDA and CDC use “passive” and “active” surveillance of COVID-19 vaccine safety after administering vaccinations, by the novelty of the disease, there is no definitive way to understand the long-term implications of the vaccination. Scientists have had decades to study the long-term effects of flu vaccinations, but COVID-19 vaccinations have only existed for a few months.

Since over half of the state’s eligible population is already vaccinated, with more expected, there is less reason to force individuals to receive vaccines. By this trend, presumably a lion’s share of eligible individuals will voluntarily vaccinate.

Since Maine is a rural state, we have substantially less risk of catching COVID-19. Most counties have less than a 0.7 percent infection rate. Maine has only seen about 69,000 total COVID cases, which is five percent of the state population. Johns Hopkins University estimates that the U.S. has a 1.8 percent COVID mortality rate, which is substantially less for young, healthy individuals.

The chances of contracting COVID are relatively low in Maine, and the probability of dying from COVID is also quite small in Maine (especially for young people).

Bodily autonomy is protected by “the right of the people to be secure in their persons,” as outlined by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Regarding abortion, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that “choice…[is] a woman’s right to control her own destiny, to be able to make choices without a Big Brother state telling her what she can and cannot do.”

Bodily choice also applies to vaccines, which involve putting substances into one’s body. People are entitled to choose what they do with their own bodies.

Some individuals have religious aversions to vaccinations. According to PBS, certain religious individuals believe that the vaccination is contrary to their spirituality. Forcing these people to vaccinate may violate First Amendment religious exercise protections.

The Maine Legislature, universities and employers should not force Mainers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. While the COVID-19 vaccines are generally safe and effective, educating people about the vaccines and encouraging people to voluntarily receive them would be more in line with American liberties. Some object to receiving the vaccine due to possible symptoms, religious aversions or uncertainty about long-term effects. With a large share of Mainers already vaccinated, and a relatively low contagion or mortality rate in the state, Maine residents should have the choice of whether to get vaccinated.

Most Mainers probably should get vaccinated. But this should remain each person’s choice.