Flat White

From vaccine passports to vaccine apartheid

2 September 2021

4:00 AM

2 September 2021

4:00 AM

According to a YouGov poll published in yesterday’s Australian, two-thirds of Australians agree that people who are not vaccinated should be denied privileges that they have to date shared in common with the rest of the community. 

This is referred to as a “vaccine passport”, although it should more properly be called “vaccine apartheid”.  

The poll doesn’t say, because it didn’t ask, but a reasonable inference is that the public is so heavily in favour of vaccine apartheid because they have been told that we can only safely open the economy up with high rates of vaccination. 

This is wrong.  

Vaccine apartheid, whether proposed by governments or various commercial and not-for profits serves no good point. And if there is no point, then they are an infringement on basic human rights. No ifs, and no buts. 

The evidence for some time has been that the vaccines don’t stop you catching Covid or passing it on. They prevent the infection from being as severe as if you weren’t vaccinated. Added to that, if you’ve had Covid, then your resistance to infection is, according to the latest study I’ve seen, 7 times stronger than from a vaccine. 

So vaccines don’t confer herd immunity, and they don’t confer personal immunity, although they may ameliorate the disease when you do catch it (although looking at the Covid death figures for Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, this may also be a dubious proposition).  

If anything does confer immunity, it is actually catching the disease, and once you’ve had the disease and survived you are in a better position than someone who’s just had the vaccine. 

So what is the justification for vaccine apartheid?  

I’ve had various people justifying them on the basis of John Stuart Mill’s concept of self-regarding and other-regarding actions. Somehow it is assumed that the public health measures being prescribed have an other-regarding benefit which outweighs the self-regarding benefit of me being able to decide what goes into my body.  

I don’t think Mill would have seen it in quite those bleak utilitarian terms. I think he would have seen a community value in free choice that would need a fair bit of potential community danger to be outweighed. 

But we don’t need to go there. 

What the above facts show is that the prime social benefit from vaccination doesn’t actually exist. Vaccination does not prevent others being infected by Covid, and the benefit it confers is almost entirely personal. And the personal benefit may not actually be that great.  

I’m not in a position to run the risk reward figures, and I don’t know that anyone is, because our knowledge of the disease, long term effects, and how it mutates are still very time-limited. But if I am in a low risk part of the population – people under 50 without comorbidities – and the worst that is likely to happen to me if I catch Covid is that I get sick for a few days, while at the same time I acquire 7 times the immunity conferred by vaccination – a reasonable person, or a statistician armed with suitably long data sets, might conclude the reward to me of potentially catching Covid is greater than the risk from the vaccine.  

My guess is certainly as good as the government’s, and as this decision primarily involves my welfare, then I am entitled to tell them to butt out. 

Indeed, the government’s guesses on vaccination to-date may have actually done more damage to me, and to the community, than mine. Our best way of dealing with COVID as a community may have been to vaccinate the vulnerable and isolate them, and let the relatively invulnerable mix together, spread the disease and infect each other, providing a protective buffer without vaccination.  

This is what Sweden did, and the latest figures show that excess deaths are now negative, and despite a third wave of infections, the absolute death rate from Covid has barely risen above zero.  

For all intents and purposes, Covid’s public health effects in Sweden seem little different from those of the flu. 

In which case mass vaccination has actually provided a community disbenefit, and my choice not to vaccinate, should I take it, may actually be doing the community a service. Take that nouveau-Millians! 

The other other-regarding issue that is raised is that if I am not vaccinated and I become ill I will spread the disease to others. A subset of this argument, and one which the proponents think is more compelling, is that I also constitute an unwarranted risk to someone who might have to treat or care for me, or a vulnerable person that I might come in contact with.  

But this is true, whether I am vaccinated or not, and as vaccination does not prevent me catching Covid, and if it ameliorates the effects, so that I am more likely to be asymptomatic if I have it, the vaccinated may even be more likely to pass on the disease than the unvaccinated.  

They may also contribute to stronger variants evolving which do more damage in the long run. 

These are all facts that are known to the health bureaucrats, and should be known to the political decision-makers. So why the drive for vaccine apartheid? 

Fear. Fear that the public will riot if they find out that 18 months of lockdown were an almost complete waste of time and decide to reward the bad political judgment of their leaders at the next election by terminating their tenures. 

I always thought that the heaviest burden a prime minister must bear is when he sends mostly young men off to potentially die in a war to protect the country.  

Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen state premiers wantonly destroying lives and livelihoods of mostly young men and women to protect their political hides.   

They’ve done more damage than any Australian Prime Minister has done to young lives by deployments to Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, and none of them shows the least sign of guilt, let alone the inclination to perform a public act of contrition. 

Yes, some years of life of older Australians have been saved, but in most cases they were already at risk and due to run out very soon.  

The vaccine gives politicians a way to retreat without admitting they’ve changed direction. Vaccine passports are an extreme form of nudge economics, or in the current lexicon of domestic violence, coercive control.  

If governments can gaslight voters into thinking that vaccines will keep them safe, and refusing to take them is a form of self-harm and treachery to the community, then they can walk away from the position of Covid exceptionalism – the absurd proposition we have been operating under since March last year, that unlike any other transmissible viral respiratory diseases, this one can be eliminated. 

I’m pretty sure Mill would see this for what it is and stand by the side of the vaccine dissidents. The burden of proof lies with the state, not the “vaccine hesitant” and it has set itself a burden of proof that cannot logically be met. So it resorts to coercion and discrimination. 

Graham Young is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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