Vaccine passes protect freedom and livelihoods

The current Covid surge in countries has catalyzed a debate about the extent to which governments can go to mandate individual vaccination to limit collective health risks. Western democracies are the scene of heated debates, with three branches of the state weighing in. In the United States, the Supreme Court struck down a federal government vaccination mandate for large corporations, but upheld it for healthcare workers. Among other examples, French lawmakers have confirmed a stricter vaccination pass for access to certain public places such as restaurants and trains. And in the province of Quebec in Canada, the government has announced that it will introduce a special tax on the unvaccinated.

The data is unambiguous: vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. In India, data from Delhi between January 9 and January 12 showed that 72% of the 97 Covid deaths were among the unvaccinated. In normal times, governments have to err on the side of individual choice. However, in the case of a respiratory pandemic, the choice to avoid vaccination may impede another person’s mobility and livelihood. For example, governments often restrict mobility to manage pressure on healthcare infrastructure. Data now shows that unvaccinated people are more likely to be hospitalized, meaning their choice has consequences for others.

This is one of the reasons why France has moved from an earlier phase where vaccination or a negative Covid test was adequate to a phase where only vaccination is accepted – it is a strong deterrent against not not be vaccinated, but this does not require vaccination. Given the nature of the disease and its human and economic toll, the limitation of collective risks must be favored over individual choices. Vaccination need not be mandatory, but unvaccinated people cannot expect the same privileges if they pose a risk to the liberty and livelihood of others. Choices have consequences and vaccination is no exception.


This article appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of the Times of India.


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