The freedom of some not be vaxxed undermines the freedom of everyone else

Posted on April 26, 2022 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorial
April 25, 2022.   By Star Editorial Board

‘A new study provides numbers to support the idea that vaccination isn’t just a personal decision that should be left entirely to individuals.’

So there’s a new study in a prestigious medical journal that shows people who don’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 are not just putting their own health in danger. They also contribute disproportionately to the risk of infection for those who do get their shots.

With that out of the way, we now eagerly await the study that shows water is wet. And the one that shows heavy objects tend to drop to the ground if you let them go.

The conclusion, in other words, is glaringly obvious to the point of being axiomatic. People who aren’t vaccinated are more likely to contract the virus and are therefore more likely than the general population to pass it on to others — including those who have had their shots.

We say this not to dismiss the importance of the study. On the contrary. It helps to put scientific rigour around an observation that aligns with simple common sense. All the more so because in the matter of vaccines and COVID-19, common sense isn’t always so common after all.

The study, carried out by a team from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, has implications that go directly to the heart of the debate about personal versus collective responsibility during a pandemic.

It provides numbers to support the idea — again, a pretty common sense one, but one that eludes a significant minority of people — that vaccination isn’t just a personal decision that should be left entirely to individuals.

The decision to be vaxxed or not vaxxed has implications for everyone around you. As a result, as the authors put it, “although the decision not to receive vaccination is often framed in terms of the rights of individuals to opt out, such arguments neglect the potential harms to the wider community that derive from poor vaccine uptake.”

Again, this was clear before this study saw the light of day. It was clear last year when the idea of mandating vaccination for certain purposes (such as accessing crowded public spaces) was still being hotly debated.

Eventually, governments came around to the idea of vaccine mandates. They’ve been mostly dropped now that vaccines are available to anyone who wants them, and the Omicron variant has changed the nature of COVID-19 (more infectious, but generally less severe).

But the study does give weight to the argument in principle for vaccine mandates — at the right time, and in proportion to the public health threat posed by a disease at a given moment.

COVID certainly isn’t over, and there’s always the possibility of new variants that may warrant bringing back restrictions. At the same time, some other infectious disease may come along, demanding a collective response to a whole new threat.

But we know all too well that the opposition to mandates and public health restrictions is strong, and may well be growing stronger now that the immediate danger from COVID has eased.

That opposition was at its most virulent during the trucker convoy protests, and it lives on in the Conservative leadership campaign of Pierre Poilievre, who is rallying support under the slogan of “freedom” from government restrictions of all kinds.

Given all that, the Dalla Lana study is a timely reminder that “freedom” cuts many ways. And in particular, it shows that the freedom exercised by some not to shoulder the collective responsibility of vaccination puts in danger the freedom of many others to live healthy lives. In some cases, tragically, to live at all.

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