Should people be required by law to be vaccinated for Covid?

Hospital staff were overwhelmed at the beginning of the outbreak because there was no vaccine. We all remember how intensive care wards struggled to deal with the catastrophe:

Now in November 2021 it is Deja Vú with an important difference. ICU wards are filling up again not because of the lack of vaccine, but because an anti-vaccine minority that does not want to be vaccinated.

This raises an important questions:

Should people be required by law to be vaccinated for Covid?

There is no easy answer to this question and in this blog I will look at a number of aspects that must be considered .

  1. The need of the individual to decide whether or not to be vaccinated.
  2. The need of the collective to minimise harm to the collective by making Covid vaccines mandatory.

The first question is relevant to anyone living in society where individual needs and rights are protected by law, i.e. a democracy that has enshrined in its constitution the unwavering respect for universal human rights. Human Rights are less likely protected by an authoritarian or politically corrupt system.

Restricting the freedoms of an individual

No one wants to restrict his/her/their personal freedoms. But the collective also has an obligation to minimise harm to the collective, in this case harm caused by Covid. The debate becomes problematic when individuals and the collective have a different understanding of what ‘harm’ means.

We probably agree that individual freedom should never be restricted if this does not cause harm to any other individual or the collective or both. Article 2 of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty guarantees and protects the rights of individuals and minority groups:

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

Not everyone agrees on what ‘harm’ means

Over the last few years we have learned that ‘harm’ has been defined differently across the European Union. The purpose of article 2 is that discrimination against minorities must be minimised by member states.

Yet, countries like Hungary and Poland, interpret article 2 differently. For example, in Hungary the government decided that LGTB+ topics cannot be taught in school to minimise perceived harm to the Hungarian collective. Here the assumption is that the LGBT+ community is a construct of Western ideology with the potential to undermine traditional values. Seen from that perspective, it appears a reasonable decision to prohibit an LGBT+ agenda in schools.

Evidence of ‘harm’ – the role of Science

The actions of the Hungarian collective might be appropriate if LGBT+ topics were harmful, either psychologically or physical. Science, however, has proven beyond doubt that being a member of the LGBT+ community is not a disease and part of the human existence. It is unreasonable to restrict education to a more narrow view by excluding LGBT+ topics from the curriculum. Doing so, causes more harm to the individual AND the collective in the long term.

Covid kills people

Covid however, kills people AND causes psychological harm. The science on Covid is clear. Even though a small group of vaccinated people get ill, the vast majority of people in intensive care right now are unvaccinated people:

The anti-vaccine minority group defends their decision to not be vaccinated with their individual right to do so. The group is supported by others in the collective who agree with the principle of individual freedom, even if they themselves think that being vaccinated is the right choice.

Group dynamics in democracy

This is part of the democratic process and any group dynamics: a group of people strongly favours one direction which is opposed by another group. In between are the undecided ‘appeasers’ that are less worried about facts and science and more about their own personal relationship with both groups. It is near impossible to convince a pro- or anti-vaccine individual to change his, her or their view, both sides have strong opinions, but appeasers can be swayed by one or the other position. Lawmakers and politicians know this when campaigning for votes. But can we afford to play this game during a crisis like Covid?

Hospitals are filling up – again

As hospitals are overwhelmed again, governments once again are faced with this difficult dilemma. Austria has taken drastic measures: unvaccinated people must stay at home. The reasoning behind this is clear: infringe on the rights of the individual to minimise the harm to the collective AND the individual.

Vaccinated people also have the right to not be harmed. If everyone is treated equally during a lockdown, then then freedoms of vaccinated people are restricted. They are told to stay at home when in fact they could go to the cafe, restaurant, shopping and watch a movie safely. The Austrian government decided that the minority of unvaccinated people had enough time to think about their decision and must face the consequences of their position.

Governments must minimise the harm imposed on the collective by an anti-vaccine minority

No other country has taken that kind of decision – yet. Spain for example does not have that problem at the time of writing. Vaccine rates are above 80%, hospitals are not overwhelmed. But countries with a vaccine rate of around 70% or less struggle with unvaccinated people taking up valuable intensive care beds.

Because of an anti-vaccine minority, vaccinated people suffer psychologically and physically from having their freedoms restricted: depression rates are up and important medical treatment is being postponed. This is backed up by science, unlike the imaginary LGBT+ ideology used by the Hungarian collective to create an LGBT+ free curriculum.

On the other hand, the anti-vaccine minority also suffers harm if their freedom is restricted. What is also true is that hospitals are less overwhelmed by restricting their freedoms . By restricting the freedoms of an anti-vaccine minority the harm to the collective is minimised AND the anti-vaccine minority also benefits from that restriction: they are less likely to become ill themselves and if they do, it will less likely overwhelm the health care system. That in turn makes it possible that the vaccinated majority AND unvaccinated minority can still receive medical treatment for other conditions like cancer.

This is why I support that people are required by law to be vaccinated for Covid, just as they are for other diseases like measles and polio, or alternatively quarantine people who are not vaccinated. This will protect vaccinated AND unvaccinated people at the same time and maintains the most freedom for the individual AND the collective.

Thoughts ideas? Leave them below. Keep it friendly and offer a position that is convincing rather than an inflammatory opinion.

Update 17/11/2021:

“And who has to do work in the care home when unvaccinated caregivers are quarantined for 14 days? Vaccinated overworked and tired colleagues,” says the manager of a German care home for the elderly near the end of this dramatic Spiegel TV report. Seven residents died from Covid. Over half of the staff were not vaccinated.

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