Monday 25 October 2021

Is there a RIGHT not to be vaccinated?

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(1948) which gives the right to medical treatment, but is silent 
on the right to decline it

s there a RIGHT not to be vaccinated? The question was raised over at Quora and I was spurred to answer it there.

People certainly think they have a right to your own body, indeed years ago Thomas Hobbes made this the basis of all our rights. But Hobbes recognised that people could be forced to do many things “with” their bodies.

And today, unvaccinated people are certainly finding that a lot of things they thought were their rights are not really. We are in unknown territory with vaccine mandates, really, and the ambiguities reveal themselves as governments perform all sorts of contortions to “appear” to leave people a choice, while in effect making the choice almost impossible to exercise. The US government s many other governments do, will sack people for not being vaccinated, but it does not explicitly seek to a law to make vaccination obligatory.

And so, there are concerted attempts all over the world to make ordinary, healthy people take corona virus vaccines that are known to have non-negligible side-effects including in some cases death. Databases like the EudraVigilance one operated by the European Medical Agency indicate that adverse side-effects are real enough. Two justifications offered for this are that (side-effects apart) the vaccine will protect you from the more serious effects of a Covid infection, and that they reduce transmission of the virus throughout society.

Many governments already mandate vaccinations on the basis that they are in the individuals’ heath interest, for example four doses of the Polio vaccine is recommended in the United States for children, and within Europe eleven Countries have mandatory vaccinations for at least one out of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, poliovirus, Haemophilus influenzae type B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine.

So the idea that governments can force you to be vaccinated is a bridge largely crossed already: vaccines are not considered to be experimental health treatments of the kind that the Nuremberg Code has high-lit and banned ever since the excesses of the Nazi regime in the Second World War.

However, the corona virus vaccine does seem to me to come with many problematic ethical issues. Firstly, it is not actually a vaccine in the traditional sense. This matters, as the protection it offers against the disease is far from established. Today, governments like Israel that were first to vaccinate their populations (setting to one side the separate and inferior effort for people in the Occupied Territories) are now mandating third and even fourth shots as the virus continues to spread and cause illness there.

Secondly, it is experimental in the very real sense that the gene therapy technology is novel and comes with significant unknowns. It is for this reason that all the companies making the vaccines insisted on, and got, blanket exemption from prosecution for the effects of their products. One of the early developers of the MRNA vaccine technology, Robert Malone, considers that there is a risk of the method actually worsening the illness in the long run, so called antibody enhancement, and that the unprecedented effort to universalise the vaccine also creates unprecedented downside risks from such an enhanced vaccine.

A third area of concern is that there is no doubt that vaccinated people can both be infected with the corona virus and can be infectious while infected. Although you hear politicians say things like “get vaccinated and then we can get back to normal” this is just political rhetoric, as there never was any reason to think that the inoculations against the corona virus really were equivalent to the successful campaigns for things like polio and rubella.

So, to answer the specific ethical point! The right not to be vaccinated, or in this case injected with gene therapies, does not exist. In which sense, we cannot lose this right, much as I personally think there should be such protections (protections going well beyond marginal cases such as “religious exemptions”). What seems to be new is that governments have taken upon themselves the right to impose a much more risky programme of gene therapy treatments, dished out it seems at six monthly intervals in perpetuity, backed by pretty much unprecedented sanctions on people who would, if allowed, choose not to be inoculated. But the principle of government compulsion is established already: by which I mean we are fined for driving too fast, or disallowed from certain jobs if we don’t have the right training certificates.

What the corona vaccine mandates and penalties for being “unvaccinated” (the restrictions on working, social life, social activity, travel ) really reflect is not the loss of rights as the weakness of existing civic rights. Like taxation, there should be no vaccination without a process of consent expressed through genuine and informed public debate and political representation. But as I say, this is not a right that we have at the moment, so it can hardly be said to be lost.

At the moment, governments claiming to be acting in the “general interest” have targeted individuals and groups, and criminalised certain aspects of normal life, but this is merely an extension of a politics that we have long allowed our governments to exercise.


Keith said...

Those who argue against the covid-19 vaccine cite the point that the available vaccines aren’t fully effective or fully free from side effects. Yet, there’s still much credible science and data behind the vaccines, pointing to their impressively high levels of effectiveness and safety.

In the United States, these measures of effectiveness and safety are carefully studied, reinforced by the cautious, science-based regulations of such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before the vaccines may be publicly administered. Similar credible studies are of course run elsewhere, too, in Europe and many other countries around the world.

To those extents, I’d say to label the covid-19 vaccines as ‘experimental’, as some folks do, seriously overstates reality. Besides, the dire nature of a pandemic that has already resulted in roughly 5 million deaths globally (World Health Organization, United Nations, other sources) has made it critical for governments and the global health community to respond promptly. Though importantly within scientifically framed guidelines.

Accounting for these background conditions, to my mind the overriding consideration in answering the essay’s central question about a ‘right not to be vaccinated’ is societies’ countervailing appeal to the ‘common good’. That is, in order to bring down the number infections, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by covid-19, it is to the ‘common good’ to mandate the vaccines where possible.

In short, based on these various grounds — especially society asserting its well-established interest in staking out and protecting the ‘common good’! — my answer to the essay’s core question is likewise ‘there is no right not to be vaccinated’.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Would it be true to say that governments are treating their right to vaccinate as an absolute right? where an absolute right is defined as one which always holds, or disadvantages some second party within its scope--according to philosophy professor Carl Wellman.

Professor of jurisprudence Samuel Moyn recently wrote in The New Republic, 'Why do Americans have so few rights?' which is to say, they are disadvantaged by absolute or non-negotiable rights. What happened, he asks, to give-and-take?

docmartincohen said...

On the 'rights' aspect, I am reminded that Hobbes decided that we really only have one right, which is the right to our own body. Derived from this is a right to the fruits of our labour, we can object to being born into slavery or more generally being made to work against our will.

Now vaccines are utilitarian in nature: they ignore even these basic rights to say that in the interests of the many, individual rights must yield. And we accept that calculus in two respects, first where the individual seems to be acting irrationally, because it is not in their interests to become very ill or die, or where the balance is very clear, thus that a great many people will be adversely affected by their actions. In this case, refusing a vaccine.

But re. Keith, we know that Covid is a very harmless virus. I say that because if you are under 65 it has some tiny chance of killing of otherwise seriously affecting you. Unlike the kinds of things we traditionally vaccinate.

On the question of vaccinating individuals to protect others, which is well down the slippery slope as an argument, but we do accept this as the piece says, in other cases, Covid vaccines do not stop you carrying the virus and potentially spreading it. Some experts say that vaccinated people may even become safe harbours for the virus to mutate and become more dangerous. Whatever, there seems to be no evidential argument that vaccination reduces transmission. We seem to be seeing that now with countries like Israel, where the population (excluding the Arab minorities) is pretty much fully vaccinated but the virus is spreading rapidly again.

On the question of the evidence, we have to be sceptical. Government bodies like the CDC do not conduct tests, they pay the drug companies to do them. We hear that vaccines are safe for all groups - including say children and pregnant women, but the tests to date have been done on standard volunteer groups whose ages are necessarily over 19 and exclude pregnant women. We have a technology that seems to be designed on the hoof - second jabs are "found" to be most effective after six months, 50%b doses to "work" for under 12s… And most alarming of all, we are told that "unexpectedly" the vaccines seem to need second, third, fourth, fifth top-ups.

What I'd ask supporters of the most expensive and most lethal roll out of vaccines in human history, is why the drug companies did not announce the tendency ofd their cure to 'wear off' and the need for these continual reinjections?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

In a US Supreme Court judgement yesterday, the court decided that it is a state's absolute right to choose to vaccinate. Three judges dissented:

"This case presents an important constitutional question, a serious error, and an irreparable injury," Gorsuch wrote. "Where many other States have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course. There, healthcare workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs."

Keith said...

The Hobbesian ’right to one’s own body’ might lead one down a bit of a rabbit hole, it seems to me, in terms of permissiveness versus limits. For instance, women who support the ‘pro-choice’ position on abortion not infrequently turn to the placard-bearing slogan ‘My body, my choice’. (Leaving out their husbands or partners in the matter of choice, apparently.) But where, by logical extension, might that catchphrase lead? Might one then claim a right to commit suicide — for any reason, by any means, without any interference — asserting ‘my body, my choice’ or the likeminded principle ‘right to one’s own body’? And where else might the logical extension of ‘right to one’s own body’ or ‘my body, my choice’ take us? Or does the slogan apply only selectively, depending on what’s philosophically convenient personally and in the moment, like at schoolboard or workplace or state legislature meetings over vaccine mandates?

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