Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandatory?

Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandatory?

Governments around the world are turning to vaccination mandates as the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc and vaccination in some communities begins to slow.
New Zealand – which ditched its COVID-Zero strategy amid persistent infections – last week introduced a ‘no jab, no job’ policy for doctors and teachers, while neighboring Fiji says that all of its public and private sector workers are at risk of losing their jobs if they are not fully inoculated by November.

In the United States, where a wave of infections this summer disrupted plans to restore some sense of normalcy, President Joe Biden in September announced a vaccine mandate for most federal government employees and demanded that large companies require their employees to get completely bitten or take weekly tests.

Nowhere are the vaccine rules stricter than in Saudi Arabia and Italy.

In the Gulf Monarchy, all public and private sector employees must be vaccinated to be physically present at work, while anyone wishing to enter government buildings and schools, or wishing to use public transport or travel outside of the kingdom must justify having received double doses. a COVID-19 vaccine.

And in Italy, a policy that went into effect on Friday states that all workers must show proof of vaccination, immunity or a negative test within the last 48 hours to get to work. Those who do not have the so-called “green pass” could be suspended and their wages could be suspended after five days. The pass is also required to enter museums, gymnasiums and restaurants and to travel by train, bus and plane.

Protesters protest against mandate that teachers and staff in the New York City school system be vaccinated against COVID-19 in New York City [Brendan McDermid/ Reuters]
Protester speaks into megaphone during protest against mandatory ‘green pass’ in central Rome on October 9, 2021 [Tiziana Fabi/ AFP]

These measures have sparked protests, legal challenges and, in some cases, counter-mandates from local politicians.

In Fiji, which in July had one of the world’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rates, workers asked the country’s highest court to overturn its vaccination mandate, while in Texas, the Governor Greg Abbott last week issued an executive order banning “any entity” in the US state from applying a vaccination warrant.

Meanwhile, huge crowds have taken to the streets of cities around the world to protest against mandatory vaccinations. Protesters in New York City earlier this month carried signs reading ‘We are not lab rats’ and ‘Without bodily autonomy, freedom is dead’, while protesters in Rome last week carried signs indicating: “No to dictatorship” and “Freedom!” No green pass ”.

“100% human rights problem”

Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou, professor of human rights law at the University of Liverpool, said: “There is a very clear link” between human rights and compulsory vaccinations.

“It is 100% a human rights issue linked to the right to privacy and the right to bodily integrity,” he said. “Human rights protect our bodies and our ability to be masters of our bodies. The consequence is our ability to determine our medical treatments.

But this right is not “absolute,” Dzehtsiarou said, meaning that governments can interfere with it if they can justify such interference as necessary and proportionate to the achievement of another valuable objective.

In the case of COVID-19, advocates for mandates say mandatory vaccinations – at least for some groups – are a justifiable intrusion into an individual’s freedom and autonomy.

This is because COVID-19 is serious and deadly. The disease has so far sickened at least 239 million people across the world and killed at least 4.9 million people, while measures to curb its spread – including lockdowns – have devastated lives and livelihoods, increasing conflict and leaving hundreds of millions of people hungry.

And, as David Cole and Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union point out, vaccinations against COVID-19 have been shown to be safe and effective, while there is still no other equally effective alternative to protect the disease. public health.

“Far from compromising civil liberties, vaccines actually demand new civil liberties,” Cole and Mach wrote in the New York Times newspaper in September. “They protect the most vulnerable among us, including people with disabilities and fragile immune systems, children too young to be vaccinated and communities of color hit hard by disease. “

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, has said it does not support COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The world health body says it currently believes it is best for governments to work on information campaigns and make vaccines more widely available.

“Mandatory programs during a crisis will be counterproductive,” said Dr Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist who advises WHO on recovery from a pandemic. “When people have what we call conspiracy theories or they have mistaken beliefs or misunderstandings, [such schemes] will only strengthen their opinions.

This is why, according to the WHO, a mandate should only be considered when governments have made proactive and sufficient efforts to address the concerns of those who refuse to be vaccinated and if low vaccination rates in the absence such rules put others at serious risk. prejudice.

Neither force nor constraint

Even when a vaccination mandate is warranted, experts say the policy should have clearly defined exemptions, such as in the case of allergies.

They also stress that the authorities must not use physical force to bite people.

In September, Human Rights Watch accused Chinese authorities of forcibly immobilizing people in order to vaccinate them. Rights groups said police in Hunan Province forced a man into a car towards a hospital in August, and several people held him back while being injected with a vaccine.

“International human rights law allows governments to demand that people be vaccinated – but not by physical force or undue coercion,” the group said.

Experts also say any COVID-19 vaccine warrant must also be given to people in high-risk locations.

A policy that covers the whole of society “would really give the impression of being an excess of government power and would be seen as too onerous,” said Debbie Kaminer, law professor at Baruch College, City University of New York. York. “It should be targeted at places where there is the greatest risk of the spread of disease such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools. “

In the United States, where vaccination slowed after about 70% of adults received two doses, Kaminer said the warrants had become necessary because other interventions – such as incentive programs such as lotteries – fail to increase the rate.

For example, the state of Ohio announced in May a series of weekly draws of $ 1 million for residents aged 18 and older who had received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine. But the researchers say they did not find a statistically significant association between the raffle announcements and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date.

These programs may not have been effective “just because the issue has become so politicized in the United States,” Kaminer said. “It’s so tied to people’s political views that it’s much harder to change your mind. “

However, the mandates seem to be working.

In New York state, official figures show 92% of healthcare workers were trapped before the Sept. 28 deadline while in New York, 95% of public school staff complied with a prescription to get at least one dose by October 4.

“The warrants are working,” Kaminer said. “I want to stress here that no one is talking about forced vaccinations. That is, if you want to be a health care provider, you have to get the vaccine. If you want to work in a classroom full of unvaccinated children, you need to get vaccinated.

“The goal is not to be punitive. It is about ensuring the safety of society.


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