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Is Being Vaccinated A Right? An 80-Year-Old Musician Sues His Government For A Vaccine

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Lebanese flag and Covid-19

An 80-year-old man who seeks to only bring joy to others through music is now fighting for the right to be vaccinated.

When Covid-19 spread across the world, Joseph al-Hajj was concerned for his most prized possessions: his lungs. The musician sought out the vaccine to protect his body and the ability to perform music professionally.

When he saw younger lawmakers skip him in line for the vaccine, it inspired him to fight for his rights. With the help of his son Fadi, who happens to be a lawyer, he decided to file a suit against the health ministry.

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Hajj's Love for Music Spans Generations

Hajj’s father was also a musician. He was a working professional musician before there was an independent Lebanon. Once Hajj fell in love with music, he knew he wanted to spread that passion to others, without boundaries or limits.

“I perform my duties as a musician to any party or person and everything else is the least of my concerns,” he said.

His house, which he shares with his wife, is filled with portraits of moments of his life including himself with musical instruments.

A notable picture is one of him posing with Betty Ford, wife of U.S. President Gerald Ford. It was taken in 1975 during a Lebanese folk music performance in the United States.

In 1997, Hajj performed for Pope John Paul II in Lebanon. It was just the second time a Pope had been in the country, and the first official Papal visit. 

Hajj insists that he only seeks to bring joy to others through music and to protect his own wellbeing.

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The fight for his rights

The brass and wind musician continues to wait at home in Mtein, roughly 18 miles northeast of Beirut. He's been anxiously awaiting the results of multiple pharma companies and their work to quickly bring vaccines to the general population around the world. 

Hajj, who considers himself quite patient, lost his temper when he read about the MPs' vaccinations. The action may have violated the terms of the national immunization plan, especially for those over the age of 75.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m very upset,” Hajj said about the violation.

“I’ve been waiting, waiting to go out again and play at parties and bring people together,” Hajj said. The decision to file suit came after he began to lose confidence in the country's officials to administer their plan to vaccinate the populace. 

When a judge had ordered that the ministry should vaccinate him within 48 hours, Fadi called it a “small victory for accountability.” The ministry said it had violated his right to life and health as well as equal access.

“When politicians protect the perpetrators and are this shameless, there is only one authority where you can seek refuge: the judiciary,” said Fadi.

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A setback but not all hope is lost

Hamad Hasan, a Caretaker Health Minister, defended the situation that spawned the mixup, stating that a “sovereign decision” was at work and that the ministry has issued an appeal.

According to a court filing, the government claims that it “does not discriminate between citizens, rather, it gives them all equal opportunities to access the vaccine.”

After the ministry announced that Hajj would be vaccinated “sooner or later,” the musician said he has not lost hope and that he will wait his turn.

“I hope they give it to me soon,” he said. “In the spring, the flowers here bloom and we want to play music and have a drink.”

While his case works its way through the courts, the entertainer is only hoping to work again and bring a smile to and a cheer to a welcoming crowd, which is hopefully something that everyone has to look forward to in the near future. 

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Tomás Diniz Santos is a writer living in Orlando, Florida. He covers news, entertainment, and pop-culture topics.