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  • Catharina Schaufler-Mendez and Jamie Spratt

For and Against: Vaccine Mandates

As featured in Edition 39, available here.

BY CATHARINA SCHAUFLER-MENDEZ (3rd year - Politics and International Studies with Global Sustainable Development - Vienna, Austria) and JAMIE SPRATT (2nd year - Politics and Economics - Durham, UK)

FOR (By Catharina Schaufler-Mendez)

On November 19th, 2021 Austria announced its fourth lockdown, as well as the intention to implement a comprehensive Covid-19 vaccine mandate. Everyone aged 14 and above, with certain people eligible for exemptions, will have to be vaccinated, or start facing up to 3,600€ (around 3000 pounds) in fines every 3 months from February 1st, 2022. These harsh measures come in response to Austria having the second-lowest vaccination rate in Western Europe, with only 68% of the population being fully vaccinated.

However, Austria is not the only country considering a vaccine mandate, although it is the first EU country to announce a nationwide Covid-19 mandate, following nations like Indonesia. WHO Europe director Hans Kluge has said that “mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort” and that all other options must be exhausted first, however with an EU-wide vaccination rate of only 66%, cases continually rising, and the emergence of Omicron, it seems like all the recourses that have been taken over the past almost two years have failed. It’s no wonder that countries like Germany, Italy, and France, as well as the US, are contemplating following suit with the implementation of partial vaccine mandates.

Although vaccine mandates may seem unheard of, they are common throughout history, and even in the present day. Compulsory vaccines aided in the suppression of diseases that have plagued humanity for millennia, including polio, measles, chickenpox, tetanus, etc., as well as the complete eradication of smallpox in 1980. In 1853, the smallpox vaccination became mandatory in England, decreasing the deaths tenfold, and in 1905, in response to smallpox vaccine skeptics, the US Supreme Court ruled that personal liberties can be trumped for the public good in regards to health and welfare, and that the state can “enact a compulsory vaccination law”. Even nowadays universities and other educational institutions around the globe often demand inoculation records, and international travel can also require certain vaccines. The point of this being that vaccine mandates are neither anything new, nor are they unheard of in the present day, and considering the fact that Covid-19 is ranked among the 10 deadliest pandemics in human history, it isn’t too extreme to believe mandates might need to be implemented.

However, many anti-vaxxers or vaccine skeptics, believe that such a drastic measure is incompatible with fundamental human rights. Specifically, the right to bodily autonomy, as an obligatory vaccine intrudes on a person's right to make that decision for themselves. However, it can be argued that this sort of intrusion can be justifiable in certain cases, namely when the choice not to be vaccinated inflicts harm on others. Our rights to personal and bodily autonomy are not absolute, and considering that people with disabilities, fragile immune systems, and children who are too young to be vaccinated are adversely affected by the decision of healthy people not to become vaccinated, their rights to life trump the ‘right’ of not being vaccinated. Especially since the Covid-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, and the risks of contracting the virus are much more detrimental, in the worst case lethal, than any side effects from the vaccine.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember it is not the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated, regardless of how hard governments are trying to push that narrative. Throughout the entire pandemic, governments in the West have fuelled distrust amongst their populations by implementing contradictory measures. Instead of actually caring about the health of their people and adequately dealing with the pandemic, they aligned themselves to the interest of businesses and corporations, putting profit over people again and again. And now, instead of taking accountability for the vast distrust they themselves sowed in the masses, they are attempting to divide the people by placing the blame fully on the unvaccinated. Not on the austerity the healthcare budgets have been subjected to for decades, not on their initial mismanagement and failure to contain the virus, not on Europe’s botched vaccination efforts. Instead it is the fault of individuals.

Regardless, mass vaccination is incredibly crucial to finding a way out of the Covid pandemic. Health care systems across Europe are in fear of collapsing again, which must be prevented. So although the way in which governments have acted throughout the pandemic is despicable, vaccination rates must increase. National vaccine mandates may be too extreme, but a vaccine mandate for certain professions, for instance care home workers, hospital workers, public servants, etc., as some countries are considering or have already implemented, would be a step in the right direction.

The most surefire way, however, to deal with this pandemic and the emergence of new variants would be increasing vaccination rates throughout the globe, not just in Europe or North America, which means abolishing patents and ending vaccine nationalism.

Image 1: Unsplash (Jeremy Bezanger)

Image 2: Flickr (The Focal Project)

AGAINST (By Jamie Spratt)

Ross Clark recently wrote in The Spectator; ‘It can be puzzling to work out why anti-vaxxers should get so worked up against a medical intervention that has saved many millions of lives over the past couple of centuries.’ This is a good way to start a discussion about this increasingly heated topic. It is very important to be clear here: I am not against vaccines in any way, shape, or form, and in fact believe that the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were produced is quite remarkable.

Having said that, the recent push to start talking about mandatory vaccinations in the UK simply doesn’t make any logical or scientific sense. Why would you make it criminal for someone to not be vaccinated? SARS-COV-2 is not comparable to (say) Polio, which was eradicated through vaccination. COVID-19 jabs do not prevent transmission. Is the reasoning that it reduces pressure on ICU beds? Forcing unwilling individuals to take a medical intervention, so they don’t get sick and take up the space of a bed? Okay, what about drinking and smoking? Or speeding on the motorway? Why should a lung cancer patient who hasn’t smoked a cigarette be denied a bed that has instead been given to a chain smoker of 20+ years – it’s their choice to smoke, right?

You can’t blame a small section of the population (aka the ‘unvaccinated’) for overwhelming the health system when the latest tests are saying that around 95% of adults in England are estimated to have antibodies, from either vaccination or prior infection. It is quite simply incorrect, not to mention immoral in its scapegoating.

The question to ask is when does individual choice get usurped by social responsibility? With a question as deep as this one, there needs to be some ‘lines in the sand’ and those need to be stated very clearly. The line in the sand here is bodily autonomy. I am not sure, in all honesty, if this falls under the umbrella of the abortion debate (pro-choice vs pro-life), but the principles are undoubtedly similar. Does the State get to decide what goes into your body, or what medical procedure you have?

It seems the slur ‘anti-vaxxer’ is being used as a weapon by certain parties. It is a clever tactic – as soon as someone is lumped into this category it becomes increasingly hard to get away from the assumptions that you are irrational and ‘anti-science’. There are many different reasons to not get a vaccine. Ideology is just one reason. A recent study showed that the main reason for not wanting the Covid vaccine [in particular] was worries about the ‘rushed’ nature of this vaccine’s approval. Religious beliefs and objections are another. Leading on from that, can you compel someone to take a medical intervention that goes against their religious beliefs? Would these people be exempt? If so, how would you be able to prove it?

Government authority is going too far and has been for the past few months. Temporary government powers are never temporary, and crises rarely recede when they should, largely due to the ‘ratchet effect’ of government bodies/bureaucracy remaining in place long past their sell-by date (e.g. NHS Test and Trace). The precedent for a lockdown has already been set – we were repeatedly promised by our leaders that after everyone who wanted/needed to be vaccinated has been vaccinated, life would return back to normal. But anyone who noticed their failure to relinquish their emergency powers (Coronavirus Act) knew it was simply a matter of when, not if, restrictions would be reintroduced.

Knowing this, why on earth would we give these same leaders the authority and power to decide what goes into our bodies? Trust is far lower than it was even 2 years ago, and this is simply a line we should not cross because it will be a lot harder to turn back.

I think this all stems from tunnel vision. When we are given Covid death stats, they are never in context - a sense of perspective is rarely given with regards to the total daily death toll in the country from any cause. The media is driving society towards a tunnel vision, which is prompting and pressuring politicians to do things they wouldn’t previously consider.

Image 1: Flickr (GoToVan)

Image 2: Flickr (Ivan Radic)



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