I'm not sure this article by Margaret Somerville could be a more bitterly disappointing and concerning examination of the ethics of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination. Declaring her prejudice immediately by use of the term 'anti-vaxxers' which has become widely used to denigrate any person choosing not to vaccinate, Somerville identifies any person who for any reason is not vaccinating by this term saying,
"For my purposes here, I include them all within the designation “anti-vaxxers”.
Of course, there can be no legitimate reason for adopting a term of denigration to describe any group of people if your intent is to genuinely and objectively explore the ethics of an issue. This seems to be lost on Somerville as the term is used no less than nine times, constantly reinforcing the inaccurate and derogatory language that has been adopted in the public sphere.
Deciding there are three groups of people in her 'anti-vaxxer' identifier, Somerville declares the basis for non-vaccination to be:
- Those who oppose all vaccinations
- Those who are 'vaccine hesitant' due to concerns about safety and efficacy or hold a distrust of those promoting the vaccine
- Those who are only against mandatory vaccination
While she correctly identifies some of the reasoning behind those who are taking a stand against mandatory vaccine, Somerville clouds the issue by suggesting that many are also opposing other Covid measures such as masks and lockdowns. She offers no evidence for this although it would be understandable that after 18 months of lockdowns, masks, and loss of jobs, closing businesses, and suffering mental health that people are simply tired of having all of their freedoms lost.
At the same time as she engages in denigration of those choosing not to vaccinate, Somerville fails to do any more than offer the same media propaganda on Covid and vaccine safety and efficacy that we hear all day on television. While there is certainly some basis in truth that vaccination reduces likelihood of hospitalisation and death for the fully vaccinated person, there is ample evidence that this is achieved for only a relatively short time; in Israel a person is now considered unvaccinated if their last dose was less than six months prior. It also doesn't account for the fact that those who do become hospitalised or die often do so for the same reasons they would have if they'd not been vaccinated: their age or underlying comorbidities. Nor is any weight given to the alarming and growing evidence of potential short-term harm from vaccines, let alone the long term effects that may not be seen for years.
In the context of these omissions, Somerville goes on to give examples around vaccination that give priority to the importance of safety of those who are vaccinated. Deciding that a vaccinated worker has the right to be protected from, and therefore not work with an unvaccinated worker, or that an unvaccinated caregiver is a threat to a vaccinated person in their care, she again fails to acknowledge any of the latest research around infection transmission. There is now evidence that vaccinated people carry similar viral loads when infected as people who are not vaccinated making them as much a risk to others. While I understand there are many vested interests at play in this information being censored or dismissed, when one is considering ethics, it is prudent to apprise yourself of, and consider all of the possibilities.
Somerville further perpetuates the alarmism of today's politics by talking about overwhelmed hospital systems. Few people are questioning why our hospitals should be overwhelmed after 18 months of preparation, just as few people question why our healthcare system is often overstretched at any point in time. Furthermore she makes the disturbing statement,
"I have been musing on whether the “anti-vaxxers” should go to the end of the queue if they need such care, but that would raise other ethical problems and, so far, I have been told, a person’s vaccination status is not being factored in in allocating treatment when there is a shortage."
Disturbing because she then doesn’t go on to denounce the absolute lack of ethics in such a stance, but leaves it hanging as though it might one day be an 'okay' possibility.
"If justified mandatory vaccination in precisely defined contexts can effectively address even some of these issues, I propose it is not only ethical, but ethically required. “Justified” means that mandatory vaccination must be the least invasive, least restrictive alternative reasonably available and likely to be effective to achieve the goal of minimising, as far as possible, the spread of COVID-19, and the risks, harms, and consequences that go along with it."
Somerville has not addressed risks of vaccine, nor the individual risks of Covid, nor that the average age of death from Covid in Australia is greater than the average life expectancy.
Nor has she questioned why treatments that have substantial evidence of efficacy have been banned by the TGA. Not banned because they don't work but because too many people apparently wanted the treatment and supply was an issue and there were concerns that treatments might stop people vaccinating.
If ever there was an issue to critically examine ethically it would be the banning of less invasive, less restrictive alternatives. Clearly that could be too damning of the political stance all too obviously underpinning this less than objective ethical exploration.