Does my Right to Life offend your Freedom?
Although the past two years may have been some of the most challenging ones in many of our lifetimes, the world has accomplished much by coming together. The meeting of minds, shared thought and combined actions across the world have saved countless lives and continue to do so! One cannot help but marvel at the breakthroughs in science and technology that brought us this far. But despite everything we have accomplished collectively, we have also seen the world split in its opinion on the covid vaccine. Is it safe? Should it be mandated? Should I get it? Are my rights being offended? The doubts and questions are endless.
To add to these doubts, numerous programs on the news and social media continue to proliferate this rift with no end in sight. This article attempts to shed some light on this very vaccine debate and raise awareness so we can collectively carry the covid pandemic through the endzone!
Covid-19 vs. Covid Vaccine
Fulfilling the primary goal of the United Nations Charter;
“Promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all”
is challenging because, the “all” refers to the rights and freedoms of both the individual and the society, which every so often come into conflict. So how can we protect our individual human rights without affecting another’s? What happens when the needs of the society trump those of the individual’s rights, freedom, and privileges? The Corona vaccine has been identified as the principal weapon in the war against Covid-19 and yet it is a weapon that not all are willing to wield. While many are accepting of the vaccine as the need of the hour to protect themselves and the society, some reject the vaccine as an assault on their body and their individual human right. Numerous vaccines for harmful diseases have been offered and used without much issue for decades, so why is the corona vaccine such a hot topic?
Corona vaccine sceptics can be excused for their antipathy because corona vaccines have been developed under much shorter timelines than that is the standard protocol. Worries about its side effects and its newness are entirely valid. This distrust of the vaccine is further fuelled by targeted social media and other engagement algorithms that act as a catalyst and further impede vaccination drives. However, significant testing under due diligence as feasible given the current pandemic conditions has shown clear scientific evidence that the covid vaccine does not increase mortality but in fact reduces it for those who might and will contract the disease if it continues to spread. A study conducted in October 2021 showed that in the United States alone, the vaccination drive slowed the spread of the virus and prevented almost 140,000 deaths. In Europe the number of saved lives due to the vaccine is almost half a million. In addition, the corona vaccine also prevents us from getting sick if we contract the virus. Hence, the overall goal of the international medical community has been to get the maximum population vaccinated to lessen the transmission, excepting those with known health conditions at risk from the vaccine itself. But low vaccine rates in many countries have weakened the defence against the virus as it continues to mutate and propagate. The 3rd and 4th wave of the pandemic has struck, reduced the liberties that people enjoy in their everyday life, loaded hospitals, crippled economies, and resulted in even more death!
The Threat of the Unvaccinated
Although the benefits of the corona vaccine program are apparent, there are still a group of people who refuse to get jabbed. This has historically been the case with other public vaccination programs of the past as well. Often, these sceptics untouched by the specific disease related tragedy are unconvinced by statistical facts or scientific data. Covid scientists insist that unvaccinated people are a risk not only to themselves but also to others. Adults who are unable to get the vaccine due to underlying medical conditions, very young children and older people who cannot get the vaccine due to risk of side effects have no way to stay safe if people around them are not vaccinated. This is because the unvaccinated person can be host to the virus by keeping it further in circulation and allowing it to mutate and proliferate. Unvaccinated people are also likely to develop health complications if they contract Covid-19. This in turn needlessly burdens the healthcare system. And many have learned the hard way that getting infected may not be the best route to getting immunized.
But upon closer inspection of the unvaccinated population in the wealthy countries, we see that that “Not all unvaccinated are antivaxxers”. People from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, or without access to covid related information, those with specific health concerns, and those that are misinformed are also among the unvaccinated. However, it is the self-proclaimed anti-vaxxers in wealthy nations with access to vaccines who cause the most damage both directly by transmitting the virus and keeping it in circulation and indirectly by propagating the anti-vaccine sentiment.
The Vaccine Mandate and The Human Rights Debate
Reports of “excess mortality” or number of deaths above the normal circumstances and caused by covid-19 both directly and indirectly are so daunting that mandating the covid vaccine has become the chosen path of governments. But does such a mandate remove the individual’s right to choose, or does it protect the right of another by safeguarding their life?
For over 150 years, public health officials both in the United States and in Europe have carried the power to make decisions for the greater benefit of society rather than pandering to any group or individual, and have been backed by their judiciary. It naturally follows that the World Economic Forum favours the corona vaccine mandate. The right to live and be “protected from the spread of the disease” is deemed a fundamental right. Other Human Rights experts across the world have further clarified this issue and reiterated that mandating the covid vaccine is not a human rights violation but in fact a moral obligation and reaffirms every individual’s fundamental right to protection.
Equipped with this understanding, some countries have begun mandating the vaccine, but not without pushback. Vaccine mandates in countries like France, Italy and Germany have come under fire for multiple reasons. Critics call them unconstitutional and divisive making them unpalatable. Behavioural scientists warn that such vaccine mandates may lead to distrust of the government, create polarization among public and may spill into realms beyond the covid pandemic and produce long lasting adverse consequences. They therefore recommend that governments use carrots rather than sticks to persuade the unvaccinated. By deploying targeted informational and educational strategies among local communities, personalised strategies for the medically vulnerable and other positive reinforcement techniques that enable both factions to find middle ground, governments stand a better chance.
The Vaccine Shortage
The travesty of the matter is that while the people of wealthy countries with an oversupply of covid vaccines have the luxury to think about their individual inconveniences, in many developing countries despite the willingness to be vaccinated, the vaccine shortage has resulted in even worse outcomes.
While Europe stands at almost 69% and US at 63%, Africa has less than 10% of its population vaccinated. The emergence of the Omicron mutation is one such example of why and how reduced vaccine rates due to shortages impact not just on a national level but also globally. Overall, only half of the world has been fully vaccinated and poor countries can only increase their vaccinated rates with support from the wealthy ones. This reaffirms the fact that the war against covid can only be fought if we are unified. Vaccine Equity is key!
The impact of being covid unvaccinated has stretched beyond the covid realm. Across the world, medical treatments for other life-threatening conditions have taken a back seat due to the lack of availability of personnel or equipment now dedicated to covid hospitalizations. In Africa, the funding for HIV and Tuberculosis has dwindled to nothing because of the focus on Covid and worsened the standard of living by increasing hunger and poverty. Unnecessary complications and loss of life have resulted due to cracks in the covid vaccine shield caused by unvaccinated individuals. Dr Sanjay Gupta fears that soon the population will no longer be divided as vaccinated and unvaccinated, but as vaccinated and infected!
The ‘Trust’ Element
Since we have identified ‘trust’ as the key element of this division, then it follows that repressive measures will fuel this divide even more. As such, shaming anti-vaxers and mandatory vaccine programs will never have the desired effect and the long-term repercussions of such approaches must certainly be considered. Only informational, educational and awareness programs stand some chance of getting us through the pandemic without significant collateral and societal damage. However, this time around, vaccine awareness campaigns face more complicated, stubborn, and self-organized challenges from social media than those faced in the pre-social media times.
Since social media and engagement AI algorithms effectively determine our news feed according to what we want to hear and the global news media mainly rewards sensationalist stories to the detriment of nuanced ones, awareness campaigns are likely to miss their target. So perhaps we must face the inevitable fact that there is no perfect solution to this polarized vaccine debate, and a combination of honest, logical, and trustworthy argumentation with human concession is the only way that a desired outcome can be attained.
Because Art 2. Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that “Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights”, a combination of soft and hard measures must be deployed by governments as the only way out of this pandemic. Finding ways to capitalize on the social media and global influencing mechanisms as well as balancing free speech while deploying regulatory measures for the greater good of the society is the duty of the entire international leadership community.
“All human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing”
If we are inevitably interlinked, then shouldn’t we all equally share the responsibility for both life and death? Shouldn’t giving up a small amount of our liberty to save another’s life be not only the logical but also the human thing to do?
– World Health Organization.