Diane Francis, Financial Post columnist, wants to “make the unvaccinated pay for their own health care.” She argues that Canada should follow Singapore: “if you don’t want to be vaccinated and don’t protect yourself, then fall ill, nobody else should have to pay for your personal negligence and irresponsibility.”
Really? Setting aside the fact that all of us already do pay for universal healthcare through our taxes; let’s pause to think about this argument. Is that what we say to alcoholics needing healthcare? What of those who “negligently” eat sugar and develop diabetes? Must they pay for dialysis treatment? What about lifetime smokers who irresponsibly put their own health and the health of others at risk with their second-hand smoke? Do we force them to pay for their lung transplant?
If this is our approach to medical care, how do we determine who deserves treatment and who does not? Who is worthy of compassion and who ought to be shamed? Now we know the vaccinated – in other words, those who have complied with public health mandates – are still subject to “breakthrough” COVID-19 infections. This is especially true with the Omicron variant. Should we assume these individuals were somehow negligent or irresponsible? If so, should they also be punished by paying for their healthcare?
Most of unvaccinated I talk to have gotten the message loud and clear: “You are not wanted!” at any restaurant, theatre, or gathering place. So, they stay home. They venture out only when they have to buy groceries. They do not flaunt their unvaccinated status: they know that admitting it brings scorn, just as Diane Francis has heaped upon them. They know what it is to be insulted by strangers and ostracized by their own families over the Christmas holidays – only to find out that the ones who avoided them are now coming down with COVID. (Indeed, given the restrictions in place across the country, if people are travelling or congregating, they must be vaccinated; I leave the implications of that for you to ponder).
The minority who refuse the vaccine do not make that choice lightly. Many of those I meet have decided not to get the vaccine because of their conscientious beliefs. Some take a religious stand – “the body is the temple of God.” Others are not opposed to vaccines in general, but object to the current jab as a matter of truth – they see the whole enterprise as lacking credibility, and they tell me that they cannot take a vaccine that is subject to so much conflicting information. Both groups say their personal integrity prohibits them from getting the ever-increasing number of shots mandated by the government.
But, as Diane Francis’s opinion piece demonstrates, the media, medical profession and government are all becoming exasperated with the “vaccine hesitant,” including any conscientious objectors.
When it comes to public health, there is a tricky balance to be found between personal autonomy and public welfare. This is a debate that has been going on for centuries. Public officials must weigh the risks and decide what they deem to be in the public interest. It is no easy task, to be sure. I will talk about this later, in another post.
But, as with the present pandemic, serious questions arise when there is a hardening of positions in light of changing circumstances. Mandating a vaccine that is roughly 20% effective against a disease that is fatal for 1% of those who contract it does appear, on its face, to be a step too far. Allowing only the vaccinated to travel for fear of contagion from the unvaccinated when the vaccinated can both get and transmit the disease stretches credulity.
Indeed, the increased “breakthrough” cases among the fully vaccinated is a material change in circumstances. After all, it is becoming less and less coherent for the authorities to assign blame when those who have followed all the rules are still falling sick. Have we now arrived at a reflection point on whether the current vaccine mandate is the proper course forward?
Suspicion of nonconformists is nothing new. Conscientious objectors have been maligned in our society for a long time. Years ago, the young men who refused to bear arms during the world wars were sent to labour camps around the country. These camps were meant to make life hard so that the men would break down and join the war effort “voluntarily”. In some cases it “worked,” as the recruitment officers made their rounds to see if the inmates had enough. Many, however, remained steadfast, despite the hardships they faced.
The current pressure being applied to the unvaccinated shows a similar disregard for the protection of conscience. And the punitive measures adopted today are not likely to be any more effective than the work camps of the past.
There is something terribly amiss in this country when journalists call for the exclusion of certain citizens from healthcare based on their beliefs. If you get sick in Canada, whatever the circumstances and whatever the disease, you should be treated with respect and compassion. Period.
 Figures for vaccine efficacy against the latest variants are still uncertain; a Pfizer news release stated that a booster shot was required since “two doses of BNT162b2 may not be sufficient to protect against infection with the Omicron variant.” The Imperial College London (whose modeling in early 2020 contributed to the initial worldwide lockdowns) suggested that two doses may afford 0% to 20% protection compared to 80% after a third jab. Risks of serious outcomes from COVID-19 vary according to age and comorbidities.