C: Jakayla Toney / Unsplash

The Editors: Mandatory Vaccination? No. No. No. No.

The Irish Times reports this morning that the National Public Health Emergency Team is preparing to receive a paper on the “relevant ethical and legal considerations pertaining” to mandatory vaccination. Such a paper, if all were right with the world, would be three words long: Don’t do it.

There are myriad practical, and ethical, reasons why a policy of mandatory vaccination would be amongst the most disastrous and retrograde steps ever considered by an Irish Government. We will begin with an overview of the practical reasons.

Ireland has, according to most estimates, a vaccination level that is already amongst the highest – if not the highest – in the world. It is believed by the Government itself that between 95 and 97% of all adults have received at least one dose of a Covid 19 vaccine.

The public health situation, in Ireland, is not bad: Despite sporting some of the highest daily case numbers on a per population basis in the world, our ICU numbers have fallen since before Christmas. Ireland is facing into the Omicron storm and weathering it just fine.

In the face of that Omicron wave, two things can be said about the vaccines.

It is absolutely accurate to say that being vaccinated has provided – at best – little more than limited protection against becoming infected with Omicron. The evidence of our own eyes tells us as much, as do all the figures: A country with 95% of people vaccinated has, after all, some of the highest case numbers in the world. The second thing to say is that the vaccines have provided, to those who have taken them, good protection (though not perfect protection) against severe illness. There is little doubt that in some instances, particularly amongst the old, and the vulnerable, the vaccines have saved lives.

But saving lives alone was not what the manufacturers promised. The vaccines were approved, remember, after trial data showed that they reduced the chances of infection and transmission by 95%. That data was, ultimately, wrong.

In the face of these figures, it is not surprising, shocking, or sinister that those with doubts about the vaccines have seen their numbers swell to include, even, many from the ranks of the vaccinated. The gulf between what the manufacturers of these vaccines promised, and what the vaccines have delivered, is large.

In the face of this, NPHET now wants to consider making vaccination mandatory. There is, in all likelihood, no greater or more effective way to grow the ranks of vaccine sceptics, and fuel vaccine scepticism generally, than to have the Government mandate a vaccine at this stage of the pandemic.

Critics, after all, will reasonably ask three questions: Why now? Why this vaccine? And why is this necessary?

It is a simple statement of fact that if the case for mandatory vaccines ever existed at all – and we do not believe that it ever did – then it existed to a much greater extent a year ago than it does today. Then, after all, nobody at all was vaccinated, and the public data on the vaccine was the trial data showing 95% effectiveness. There was real fear, still, that a major covid outbreak could cripple the health service, and cost tens of thousands of lives.

A year on, the situation is different: The vaccines are not as effective as we thought, but equally, there is no prospect at all of a major covid outbreak crippling the health service, and costing tens of thousands of lives. If you believe that there is such a prospect, you must also – by definition – believe that the vaccines do not work.

In other words, mandatory vaccination today can only be justified on public health grounds if you believe that the very vaccine you wish to make mandatory can not, and will not, prevent a crisis. It is an example of contradictory thinking: if the vaccine works, then there is no need to make it mandatory to protect the health service, since 95-97% are vaccinated. If a crisis is still in prospect, then the vaccine does not work.

There is, simply, in Ireland, no public health case for making the vaccines mandatory.

All of this is before we consider the ethics of mandatory vaccination in any way.

It is a simple statement of fact that to state that in every medical ethics handbook currently in circulation, the human right to refuse medical treatment, or medical intervention, is recognised. A cancer patient has the right to decline lifesaving, or life extending, chemotherapy. A Jehovah’s Witness has the right to refuse – for themselves – a blood transfusion. We might, at times, regard these choices as irrational. But we also recognise that they are choices reserved to the individual.

What NPHET now wants to discuss is to remove that choice from us – all of us – and make decisions about our personal healthcare a matter for civil servants. All of us, vaccinated or unvaccinated, should oppose that, on the grounds both of principle, and precedent.

You can only get rid of the right to make your own medical decisions once. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Once the justification on the grounds of public health is allowed to triumph once, it is allowed to triumph forever.

We have already, of course, opened the door to this. Already, there are misguided people who, faced with the prospect of mandatory vaccination, oppose it on the grounds that “a better way is simply to limit life for the unvaccinated with vaccine passports”. It is, they believe, reasonable to punish you for making a choice, but unreasonable to take the choice away altogether, even though, to all intents and purposes, both policies amount to the same thing in practice. They cannot see, or will not see, that in giving the state the right to punish perfectly legal choices, they have already accepted the principle that the state now has the right to bully, and coerce, and punish a person for making a decision that we have always regarded as residing with the individual alone. Already, those who grudgingly accepted the vaccine passport as a temporary measure are willing to – less grudgingly – accept it as a permanent compromise. Was there ever, in human history, a better example of the slippery slope in action? 

We have already, in effect, in our unparalleled historic foolishness, acceded to what amounts to a permanent programme of vaccinations, on pain of becoming a second class citizen, against a potentially unlimited number of new variants. The shareholders of major pharmaceutical companies must scarcely be able to believe their luck, or our naivete.

What is being proposed here is a power grab: The state wants to take power away from you, the individual, and grant that power to themselves. NPHET genuinely wants the power to make your medical decisions for you: To decide what medicines you will take, and when, and whether you need them. And to punish and penalise you if you say no.

This is not a policy befitting a free country. It is a policy that genuinely should inspire outrage, and mass resistance.

Take your vaccine, or do not: The choice is, and must always remain, yours. When the Government tries to deprive you, and all of us, of that choice, there is only one fitting answer:

No. No. No. No.

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