Australia says its coronavirus vaccine will be “mandatory” for all citizens.

Coronavirus vaccine: Australia promises free doses if trial ...

 

Our best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic is a safe and effective vaccine, but faced with polls suggesting a large number of people will refuse to be immunised, governments must consider making it mandatory.

It’s not just card-carrying anti-vaxxers that will refuse. Surveys in the United States and France indicate about one in four adults would refuse a vaccine, and one in six in Britain.

If groups of this size refuse vaccination, they don’t just put themselves at risk − they undermine efforts to end the pandemic. For a vaccine to end this, a large proportion of the global population will have to sign up for it. Experts agree that at a minimum, 60 per cent of the population will need to be immunised to achieve so-called "herd immunity".

Given the incredibly high costs of unnecessarily extending the COVID-19 crisis, it seems reasonable to consider whether governments should make vaccinations mandatory. In recent months, we have come to accept extraordinary government restrictions that would ordinarily be unconscionable in liberal democracies. If you think − as most of us do − that these constraints are an acceptable price to pay to help curb the pandemic’s damage, then a mandatory vaccination policy deserves serious consideration.


This proposal might strike you as outrageous, but it’s not without precedent. In 1905, inhabitants of Cambridge, Massachusetts were required to be vaccinated against smallpox. Only last year, New York City required anyone over six months of age (in certain parts of the city) to be vaccinated against measles. Since March this year, Germany has required all parents to have their children vaccinated against measles. In all these cases, if an individual were to refuse they would be fined.

Blood samples from coronavirus vaccine trials are handled in the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute.

Blood samples from coronavirus vaccine trials are handled in the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute.

Two common justifications for lockdown could also justify a mandatory vaccination policy. According to a self-interested justification, a lockdown, and all its associated costs, is acceptable simply on the basis of rational self-interest. You don’t want to get the virus, so accepting lockdown reduces the distribution of the virus in your region, significantly reducing the chances that you will get the virus.

Although lockdown conditions reduce your wellbeing, the personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations, since your chances of being infected will lower dramatically if the vaccine has wide and quick uptake.

According to a more altruistic justification, a lockdown, and all its associated costs, is acceptable because we have a moral obligation to put others’ wellbeing ahead of our own − especially when the threat to others is as serious as death and the costs to oneself are much smaller. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations.

Giving up one’s freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated is just another way of making a relatively small sacrifice from one’s stock of personal liberties out of altruistic concern for others.

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All vaccinations carry some risk and these might be higher in the case of a quickly developed vaccine for a novel virus. But a mandatory vaccine policy can manage such risks sensibly, for instance by allowing exemptions for high-risk individuals. Once we do this, it’s not obvious that mandatory vaccinations run a greater risk of unintentional harm than lockdown, factoring in the long-lasting economic, social, domestic, and psychological consequences of lockdowns.

Were such a policy to be implemented, we would need to think carefully about how to respond to citizens who outright refuse to comply. But this problem faces mandatory lockdown policies, too, and has proved surmountable.

As with lockdown, some uses of state force are acceptable − such as fines − and some are unacceptable − such as welding doors shut. As with lockdown, some exemptions are appropriate, perhaps for individuals who have serious moral objections to the ingredients or manufacturing conditions of a vaccine.

Were entire communities to refuse a vaccine, as may occur in places such as Mullumbimby with a high concentration of anti-vaxxers, it may be appropriate to have more stringent social restrictions in place for a time in these communities.

It may sound draconian, but a mandatory vaccination policy enjoys solid prudential and moral justification. And it may be our only way of ending the COVID-19 crisis.

Australia says its coronavirus vaccine will be “mandatory” for all citizens.  Australia says its coronavirus vaccine  will be “mandatory” for all citizens. Reviewed by Anson Moore on August 18, 2020 Rating: 5

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