There is an ethical and political failure of leadership on Covid vaccination policy in Australia.
The arguments against making Covid vaccination broadly mandatory are spurious.
For example, it is true that vaccination can be described as a medical procedure. But the notion that everyone has an absolute right to refuse a medical procedure has never been law and has never been reasonable. When parents refuse potentially health-restoring treatment for their child, for whatever reason, courts regularly overturn that decision in the interests of the child. When indefensible decisions are made, which potentially occasion great harm to another or others, there is a sound basis for setting aside the decision.
Or, take compulsory primary and secondary education. This policy is considered of benefit to the child and of benefit to society. Schooling can be quite difficult and even harmful for some children. So considerable care has to be taken with education in all sorts of ways - but the cogency of mandatory schooling to ensure the welfare of the child and of society is hard to dispute.
As to vaccination specifically, Victoria's "No Jab, No Play" legislation makes it clear that all children should have vital vaccinations, both for their own protection and the protection of children and adults around them.
At this point, one is compelled to ask: Where are the adults in the room? Surely if it is sensible to vaccinate children more or less compulsorily, adults should not have lower expectations of themselves?
Indeed, isn't this exactly what the national influenza vaccination entry requirement in residential aged care, and what the all-too-slow and still significantly incomplete implementation of the Covid vaccination of all aged care workers, show to be the necessary and decent thing to do?
And isn't Covid in fact a peril for some people in all age groups, not just for the elderly?
Moreover, the sensitivity by political leaders to the worries and concerns of people who are hesitant or opposed to Covid vaccination would be more understandable if similar sensitivity was shown to the worries and concerns of, for instance, the unemployed, including those losing their jobs and businesses due to lockdowns and now have to survive on a contemptibly small government payment or, for holders of certain visas, no government support at all. Treating the unemployed with this insensitivity is of no benefit to anyone, whereas vaccination has huge personal and societal benefits.
It is preposterous to argue that requiring people to have one, two or three vaccination jabs is a greater impost upon that reluctant minority than the ongoing universal, often severe restrictions due to COVID-19.
Vaccination should be mandatory. Leaving people with disabilities or chronic illnesses and other vulnerable people to die young, or be closeted in institutions or in the home, fortunately now finds little approval. In recent times it is expected that everyone be able to participate in the activities which make life worth living. Not having almost everyone in our society vaccinated precludes this, or at least makes it unduly dangerous for many.
Presently there is a woeful failure even to vaccinate all people with disabilities, other vulnerable people, and the support people upon whom they directly rely. But if governments, and we as a society, were to get serious about a high level of social inclusion and active participation by all, just about everyone has to be vaccinated to make living life well a real possibility across the board - especially for the vulnerable and marginal.
Of course there will need to be exemptions for people who may not tolerate vaccination. Of course the safest vaccines need to be made available, efficiently and quickly, and there needs to be tweaking of vaccines to more effectively respond to new variants. Of course there needs to be more research to make the vaccines safer still, and to establish the criteria which contra-indicate vaccination. Of course there should be a process for conscientious objection to vaccination.
And, of course, there should finally be some real political leadership on this. Misguided "populism" to try and garner the votes of a very few is a travesty of politics. It is unconscionable to use the watchwords of "individual choice" and "hesitancy" amidst the Covid fog, when the real problem of slow and low Covid vaccination has been confusing and conflicting advice; poor communication, particularly with groups who already feel prejudged by the mainstream; poor organisation of distribution and injections until recently; and the obvious shortage of the safest vaccines.
With their own eyes closed, little children often think no one can see them. Yet, however thick the fog of Covid may appear to our political leaders, the lamentable lack of leadership on mandatory vaccination out of this mess is all too starkly obvious.
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