“Have you been vaccinated?” This question is asked countless times a day. It was not long ago when one’s vaccination status was private, medical information. Now, it is the norm for the bouncer at a club, or a waiter at a restaurant, to demand proof that you have had received vaccinations. The message is clear: take the jab, or be shunned from society. Governments, apparently, know best when it comes to your health. Those who disobey – the stigmatised “unvaccinated” – will face the consequences.
This is the case in many countries. New Zealand is seeking an impossible ‘Covid-Zero’ policy, and an individual must be fully vaccinated in order to enter Australia. Over 60s face vaccine mandates in Italy and Greece, and a vaccine mandate is set to affect over 18s in Austria. France and Austria effectively treat the unvaccinated or even the partially vaccinated as second-class citizens, as a negative test no longer provides a loophole for the un-vaxxed’s vaccine passports. France’s president Macron is on the record saying that he wants to “piss off” the un-vaxxed.
The UK is not innocent in the discrimination against unvaccinated individuals. A vaccine mandate is currently in place for care-home workers, and is due to effect NHS workers in February. Boris Johnson also temporarily implemented domestic vaccine passports, where individuals had to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to enter venues.
Johnson has been under a lot of criticism lately, and it is particularly disappointing to me that the leader of the Conservative party and an apparent libertarian nonetheless supported vaccine passports as a means to increase vaccine uptake in the UK. Former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called Johnson out for not following his libertarian values. In a video with Double Down News, Corbyn discussed his opposition to vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, sharing his concerns that they are a slippery slope to identity cards. He also argued that coercion is not a productive form of persuasion.
The fact that vaccine uptake is incredibly high in the UK, at over 80%, seemed to be a moot point for the government, who have only recently backed down from implementing vaccine passports. Considering that the vaccines do not entirely reduce transmission of Covid (which is – by now – mostly a mild illness) also highlights the sheer lack of logic in the UK’s and other countries’ Covid policies.
Who are the governments trying to protect? Is Macron genuinely concerned about everyone’s vulnerable grandparents, or is this a blatant abuse of power? Does Johnson believe that only allowing fully-vaxxed individuals into clubs will distract the public from the 10 (and counting) illegal parties he allegedly attended during the first lockdown? Has someone forgotten to mention to NZ leader Jacinda Ardern that any policy seeking to reduce a highly contagious illness to zero is inconceivable, and is tyranny waiting to happen?
Unfortunately, it is not just our governmental officials that seem to enjoy punishing the unvaccinated for the two-year-long pandemic. Empathy and compassion are apparently not an option for families of unvaccinated individuals who died of Covid. Some have suggested that a vaccinated person should be prioritised for an ICU hospital bed over an unvaccinated person. An article from LA Times titled ‘Mocking anti-vaxxers’ COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes – but maybe necessary’ discusses the apparent ‘moral dilemma’ over how to react to deaths of the unvaccinated, asking the question, ‘why shouldn’t we dance on the graves of anti-vaxxers?’. Similar articles have mentioned the unsensitively coined term ‘suicide by Covid’ to refer to an unvaccinated person’s death from Covid. Websites and Subreddits have been dedicated to listing unvaccinated individuals who have been hospitalised or died from Covid, with some comments as despicable as, ‘It makes me happy to see another anti-vaxxed, bimbo dead where she belongs.’
It should go without saying that an individual deserves to receive compassion and empathy when they are subject to serious illness, regardless of their medical history. Just as an obese individual does not deserve a heart-attack, and it is not a happy occasion when a chain-smoker develops lung cancer, an unvaccinated individual dying from Covid is not an opportunity to act as though justice has been served. As doctor Matt Wynia said, ‘We don’t use [the medical-care system] to punish people for their social choices’. What has happened to people’s ability to look past political motives and see each other as humans?
It’s important to make the distinction that un-vaxxed individual is not synonymous with anti-vaxxer. Anti-vaxxers discredit the value and efficacy of vaccines as a whole, and seek to discourage anyone from taking any vaccine. Unvaccinated people, however, simply have not received the Covid vaccine. That does not necessarily mean that they are against vaccinations generally, or even against the Covid vaccine itself. There are many valid reasons to not receive the Covid vaccine.
One such reason was recently raised by Dr Steve James, consultant at King’s College Hospital. A video of him discussing vaccine mandates for NHS staff with Sajid Javid recently went viral, where he made the point that the antibodies he has received from the virus is enough protection for him not to need the vaccine. In an article with The Spectator, he wrote that ‘Deriding those who disagree with you – like turning to coercion or overturning bodily autonomy – marks the point where we begin to fail as a free society.’
I am not against vaccinations. I, myself, am vaccinated. However, I am against coercive measures to pressure individuals into getting a vaccine that they do not want, for whatever reason. That includes vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, fines, and societal stigma of the unvaccinated that is turning them into ‘the lepers of Jesus’s day’.
Recent months have shown the growing war against the unvaccinated, by governments and individuals alike. There is a worrying trend of governments becoming fascistic nanny-states, but it is apparent that the citizens’ health is not the governments’ concerns, but rather the citizens’ complacency and obedience. It is long overdue to rekindle our bodily autonomies and renounce the creation of second-class citizenship. Vaccination is a personal choice, and insisting proof of vaccination in order to simply have a pint at the local pub is draconian.