With Covid-19 vaccine developers reporting promising results, we are soon going to be faced with the question of whether or not we want to be vaccinated.
It is understandable that many people would want and need the vaccine as soon as possible, but it is also understandable that some may be wary of not only a new product but also a new type of vaccine (mRNA) in the case of Pfizer and Moderna.
This leads us to the problem of what the medical fraternity now refers to as vaccine hesitancy. American research data suggest only 3 in 4 people would get vaccinated if a Covid-19 vaccine were available, and only 30% would want to receive the vaccine soon after it becomes available.
If these numbers prove to be universally accurate, then even if a safe and effective vaccine is produced, at best world-wide immunity will be significantly delayed by vaccine hesitancy, at a cost to both lives and to the resumption of normal life, and at worst, it may never be achieved.
It is therefore probable we will face the public health question: Can the government compel us to be vaccinated or do we have the right to refuse it?
There are competing rights and duties on both sides. Forcing an individual to be vaccinated is a violation of their right to personal choice. But it is the fundamental right to life that throws the Covid-19 vaccine issue into stark relief, because it also means governments must make some effort to safeguard citizens’ lives by protecting them from life-threatening diseases.
One of the aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic that has changed the way in which we think of illnesses, is our public responsibility to others. For instance, we do not wear masks only to protect ourselves from the virus, we also wear them to protect others from being infected by us.
In the same way, the introduction of mass immunisation programmes therefore requires a balancing act between personal choice and public safety.
The time has come for us to start thinking and talking about these issues. We need to have a clear understanding of the choices we are being faced with. We must not be swayed either way by the illogical arguments of hard-line anti-vaxxers or the public relation bumf spun by large pharma.
On the one hand you might have the right to refuse vaccination but on the other it might impose limits on your freedoms of travel or access to schools and workplaces. This, while you have a responsibility towards yourself and those around you.
Public consent on these issues is vital.