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Reminder: There is a human right to refuse a vaccine

It is necessary to caveat this piece with a few personal statements, right up front, so that readers on all sides of the vaccinated/unvaccinated divide can be clear about where I stand. If you are staunchly opposed to taking a covid vaccine, then what follows may, for some reason, offend you. And that’s fine, because you are not the people who need to be convinced that vaccination is and must remain a completely free choice. Likewise, if you are strongly of the view that unvaccinated people are selfish deadbeats who are endangering the health of the nation single-handedly, this may offend you. And that’s fine, too, because you are, mostly, wrong.

First Caveat: in about May of this year I received the Moderna Covid 19 vaccine, two doses, four weeks apart. I had no side effects or ill effects, aside from a mildly sore arm which started about 24 hours after the first dose, and lasted for about a day.

Second: if a booster jab is recommended to me by my doctor, I will take it confidently and without hesitation, for the simple reason that my doctor is medically trained and took an oath to do me no harm, and to provide me with the best possible healthcare. I am not medically trained.

Third: Many arguments against the vaccine are little more than abject nonsense. It is not, as some persistently and falsely assert, an “experimental jab”. That cannot be said of any treatment which has, in the case of Pfizer, received full FDA approval, and been given, besides, to 2.83billion people worldwide. “Emergency use authorisation” is not the same as “experimental”. There is no evidence whatsoever of “hidden vaccine deaths”: If there were, that would be the single biggest story in the world and media would be racing to be the first to break it. It is not “gene therapy”, because it does not alter a single human gene. Some anti vaccine campaigners have engaged in spreading outrageous, and shameful falsehoods on these questions. If you believe these things, then you are just wrong on the facts.

Nor we can confidently state, has there been any media cover up of widespread deaths or adverse reactions. The newspaper or media outlet which broke that story would benefit immensely, both in financial and reputational terms. Indeed, media outlets worldwide, including Gript, have covered reported the limited number of adverse effects and bad vaccine reactions extensively, in the rare cases in which they have occurred. Governments have been exceedingly cautious: Vaccines have been suspended or withdrawn based on very limited reports of potential side effects, and only re-introduced when those potential side effects were investigated and found not to be a concern. Nor has or can anybody produce any evidence, whatsoever, to the effect that the vaccines are in any way, remotely, unsafe. If you are not taking a covid 19 vaccine because you are afraid of it, then you are, in my estimation, mistaken.

Fourth: A good many people have very good reasons for not being vaccinated. Some are pregnant and want to be cautious about their unborn child. That is a good, and loving, reason, not to take a vaccine, even if experts disagree about the risks. Some have medical conditions which make a vaccine an ill-advised treatment. Some have had covid once, or twice, and have natural immunity. Some are young, and have a very low covid risk profile, and do not see the point in a vaccine, given that their risk is already low. These are all informed, logical, and personal decisions. But that does not matter. It does not matter if somebody declines a vaccine for a good reason or a bad reason. It is their choice, and theirs alone.

There is no excuse for the illiberalism on the question of vaccines which is currently overtaking Ireland, and much of the western world. The next three sentences require bolding, such is their importance: The right to refuse a medical treatment is a human right. People who refuse a medical treatment are not obligated to have good reasons. Or any reasons.

The right to refuse medical treatment is enshrined in the European Charter of Patients’ Rights. It is recognised by the United Nations. Informed consent is at the very heart of medical ethics. All of us who took a vaccine were asked for our consent to have it administered. There was never any obligation – legal, social, or moral – on any vaccinated person to receive a covid 19 vaccine. There remains no such obligation.

Western Governments – Ireland is not alone in this – believe that widespread vaccination is a good idea. As so very often, when Governments believe something is good, they have had a growing tendency to trample on the human rights of individuals in order to achieve it.

There is absolutely no good reason to discriminate against people on the basis of their private medical decisions. None. In plain English, if a person decides not to get vaccinated, that is not only their choice, but their absolute and unassailable human right.

In Ireland, we have decided, explicitly, to punish people for making a choice that is supposed to be free from coercion.

We have said to people in Ireland that they will not be full citizens unless they make the choice to take a vaccine. That is not “informed consent”. Those who take a vaccine because they want to go to a pub or go on holiday are making a coerced decision, not a free choice. We are exerting pressure on their decision, and holding a punishment over their head if they do not make the “right” one. That is in direct conflict with established human rights principles. It is the deliberate and conscious oppression of a minority. Yesterday, simply to sit down and eat a sandwich in a motorway petrol station, I was asked to produce a vaccine passport. Even though the place was empty, and I was seated at least 20 feet away from the nearest other human being, I was required to produce papers showing that I am “clean”. Eating a sandwich should not be conditional on my having had a vaccine. It is outrageous that we have come to this.

There is no evidence – none at all, none of any kind – that vaccine passports work to reduce the number of Covid infections. If such evidence existed, it would lead every news bulletin. It does not exist. But even if such evidence did exist, that would not justify the policy. After all, we could reduce covid 19 infections by mandating that every citizen wear full Hazmat gear when outside their bedrooms, at all times. Reducing infections alone is not enough to justify a policy.

There is also no evidence – none at all, none of any kind – that unvaccinated people are to blame for the present covid surge. The most that can be said is that they are disproportionately affected by the covid surge, and suffer the ill effects of the disease more than the vaccinated do. But it is established scientific fact that the vaccine does not prevent transmission, and the vaccinated are being infected in such numbers that it is absurd to believe that even with 100% vaccination, cases would not remain high. If you do not believe me, perhaps you will believe NPHET’s Dr. Cillian De Gascún:

There is, further, no evidence at all that Ireland’s restrictions have benefitted us in terms of Covid spread. Ireland has many more cases today than Sweden does, despite that country having no restrictions or vaccine passports at all, and a lower percentage of people vaccinated.

At this stage, in Ireland, covid policy is more an exercise of faith than an exercise in science. Many people believe – with no basis in the evidence – that punishing the unvaccinated and the young and those who socialise is the way out of our present woes. The truth is that there likely is no way at all out of our present woes, absent the virus itself becoming less virulent over time, which is a reasonable hope and expectation.

Over 90% of Irish adults are vaccinated. All of us who have taken a vaccine have a modicum of protection from the worst effects of Covid 19. Unvaccinated people are not any more a danger to us than our own, unvaccinated, children are. In fact, given that we interact with them less, they are almost certainly much less of a danger.

It is true that anti-vaccine campaigners do not help themselves. It is a racing certainty, for example, that many of them will take grave offence to elements of this article and respond with anger and rage. But they should always retain their basic human rights. The right to say no to medical treatment, once informed consent has been sought, is there for a very good reason. A majority of us in Ireland, according to the polls, are okay with punishing people who exercise their human right to say no.

We should stop, think seriously, and ask ourselves what in heavens name we are doing.

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