This editorial was published in the Tri-City Herald.

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Tri-Citians embracing the “my body, my choice” mantra as a way to justify their refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine are destroying people’s lives.

There, we said it.

Unless you are living in isolation, this “choice” is the reason Tri-City COVID-19 cases are soaring.

It’s the reason hospitals throughout Washington state are at the breaking point. It’s the reason unvaccinated COVID patients have taken over intensive care units.

This “choice” is why Tri-City doctors and nurses are burned out and your vaccinated neighbors are fed up.

For months, local and state health officials took an encouraging tone when it came to vaccine messaging. After all, it’s understandable that people might have serious concerns about the safety of a new drug.

But the expert advice, assurances and even bribery have gone about as far as they can go.

Even the constant, heartbreaking stories about unvaccinated people who have passed away from COVID have not been enough to sway the doubters.

So we are now at a different stage of this pandemic nightmare, and compassion-fatigue has crept into the picture.

Most people in our community are kind and generous, but vaccinated Tri-Citians are starting to resent that the vaccine has become a political dividing line over personal freedom — and that stubbornness is what’s keeping a significant number of people from getting their shots.

Those who got the vaccine so businesses and churches could fully open and life could become normal again are frustrated that these “freedoms” are now at risk thanks to the unvaccinated.

Letters to the editor are trickling in from readers upset that an avoidable disease is taking over our hospitals and forcing patients with other conditions to travel for care. One writer even suggested hospitals close their doors to unvaccinated COVID patients.

Tension between the vaxxed and unvaxxed is clearly building.

Admittedly, the vaccine mandate recently issued by Gov. Jay Inslee for state and school employees and health care workers is adding to the divide.

His decision launched an angry backlash throughout the state — a crowd of more than 300 gathered at the Capitol Campus in Olympia just last week protesting the new requirement.

On Tuesday, Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier said he has been getting calls from constituents who want the county to take a stand against the governor’s vaccine mandate, and members of the public echoed that sentiment during the commission meeting.

But if they don’t want a vaccine mandate, what do they suggest we do to reduce the number of COVID cases and deaths? Ignoring the problem is not an answer — especially since Franklin and Benton counties are among the highest in the Northwest for rising COVID numbers.

Children and people with weak immune systems who can’t get the vaccine must be protected by those who can.

Ethically, people can do as they please as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. That’s not the case with COVID. Unvaccinated people who mingle with others are a danger to others.

Long ago the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state’s authority to mandate vaccinations and Jabobsen vs. Massachusetts has been used time and again to justify it.

The court case from 1905 centered on whether the state could force people to get the smallpox vaccine, and in the end the court ruled that it could, noting that, “The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint.”

Individual rights only go so far, and preventing the spread of a deadly disease takes a unified group effort.

Sure, there is a scattering of vaccinated people who have ended up in the hospital with COVID, but those cases are rare. In the Tri-Cities, we have lost 356 people to the complications of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and all but one was unvaccinated.

This should tell the unvaxxed something. It’s not “My body, my choice.”

With the coronavirus, it’s “Our lives, their choice.”