Editorial: Don’t Ask, Don’t Know

Islanders have a right to know if those they receive care from are vaccinated or not.

  • Tuesday, November 23, 2021 4:25pm
  • Opinion

This week’s COVID update, from VashonBePrepared (page 1) includes the incredible news that our island has now passed the 90% mark in terms of full vaccination for ages 12 and older — a whopping 31 percentage points above the national average.

Still, it’s a simple math fact that Vashon’s vaccination rate means that one in every ten people is still not fully vaccinated, or vaccinated at all.

And at this point in the pandemic, on a small, rural, and quite frankly gossipy island, most of us could make a shortlist of people we’ve been told have refused to get the shots.

In recent weeks, we’ve received credible tips at The Beachcomber that a very small number of our complementary healthcare community — a group that includes chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, counselors, naturopaths, massage therapists and other licensed providers who are subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate — may remain unvaccinated.

Likewise, we’ve also received tips that a few other islanders who interact closely with the public in other ways, through their work, aren’t vaccinated, either.

We have no stomach here, at the newspaper, to investigate these people, some of whom could be in danger of losing their licenses to work in their fields, if they are in fact unvaccinated and have not received a proper exception to the governor’s mandate.

Still, we strongly believe islanders have a right to know if the people they receive care from are vaccinated or not.

We are also motivated to protect the health of these possibly unvaccinated islanders who, after all, could suffer the most severe impacts of COVID were they to contract it, perhaps from a fully vaccinated patient or customer.

So, we offer up this simple solution to find out whether a professional person with whom you interact is vaccinated or not: just ask, even if you think you already know the answer.

HIPAA privacy rules, by the way, do not prevent any individual from disclosing to another individual whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or any other disease. Additionally, at least one dental office on Vashon, that of Leif Rasmussen, now has signage at its front desk, saying that everyone who works there is vaccinated. Both Sea Mar and Vashon Natural Medicine have previously told The Beachcomber that their entire staff is vaccinated.

Still, others may need to be asked — something that might feel awkward, at first, but that’s an easy feeling to get over, considering the high stakes and also the fact that we all have a right to give fully informed consent to all of our close interactions these days, but especially when receiving personal care or services.

We talked about this idea with an acupuncturist, Eli Stahl, who works next door to The Beachcomber and who, it should be noted, was not one of the people who called in a tip to The Beachcomber.

Stahl, who was vaccinated in early 2021, said he has been surprised that almost none of his patients have asked him if he is vaccinated. Finally, he said, he began to ask patients why they hadn’t asked the question, only to be told that they had simply assumed he was.

Even on highly vaccinated Vashon, we now assume such things at our peril.

Recently, Stahl said, he posted a sign on his office door to let his patients know he is pro-vaccine. He also asks them if they are vaccinated, too.

Widespread vaccination is truly one of the only ways out of these endless COVID times, along with new medications to treat the disease and lessen its impacts. We know now that COVID is not going away, but could, in the best-case scenario, become an endemic disease similar to the common cold or flu. It could become, quite literally and metaphorically, something we just live with.

We’ll never convince unvaccinated folks to become so by shaming them. But economic impacts do sometimes work. So it is not mean-spirited to choose not to patronize care providers or others providing personal services who decline to disclose their vaccination status. It may, in the end, be the only thing to prompt them to finally get the shots.

But first, you need to ask.

We fully expect, in almost most cases, you’ll receive a full and reassuring answer — something along the lines of the following, told to us by Dr. Kelly Wright, founder of Vashon Natural Medicine, and who, it should also be noted, was also not one of the people who tipped The Beachcomber.

“All of our staff are vaccinated because we believe the COVID-19 vaccine is critical for both individual and public health,” Wright said. “Because of the nature of COVID-19, our staff understood the severe risk it posed long before the vaccine was available … Our office understands freedom of choice surrounding all health care, but with a once in a century deadly pandemic, for us being vaccinated and offering the COVID vaccine in our office was a very easy choice to make.”

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