Response to Vaccine Passports

by Guy de la Bédoyère

The other day I wrote a piece for Lockdown Sceptics in which I referred to my intention to have the vaccine, though in fact the piece was about the terrible prospect of governments chasing after zero Covid.

That piece has now been responded to on this site by an anonymous academic who explained his/her belief that vaccine passports make a mockery of free consent, and that I was in error when comparing the choice to have a vaccine with whether or not to choose to have a driving licence.

The author also seemed to have concluded that I am in favour of vaccine passports. Indeed, it had never occurred to me that it might be read that way. Not only was I not talking about vaccine passports, but I also do not have a view on them, either pro or against so I was completely bewildered by the piece. I am reserving that judgement for when and if they are introduced.

The author’s argument was that having a driving licence had nothing to do with being obliged to have a medical procedure. Really? That, I think, completely missed my point. I was talking about how we currently accept driving licences to protect us all from unqualified drivers or passports (not ‘vaccine passports’) to help protect us against murderous terrorists or other dangerous people coming into the country. It was simply an observation of a fact.

I was making two observations really. One is that, whether one likes it or not, every decision we make means losing out in some ways and gaining in others. Free choice is contingent on recognising that because that is what choice means, and so is free consent, otherwise how could we evaluate what we are choosing or consenting to? Life is not a bowl of cherries.

The other is that all human societies organise themselves in ways that inhibit personal freedom where individual actions or decisions are assessed, deemed, or imagined to have the power to damage others. We may not like that, especially when we as individuals are stopped from doing what we want to do. We may believe that in any one instance the inhibition of personal freedom on that basis is an outrage by refuting the reasons cited for limiting freedoms.

But that’s what happens and to a greater or lesser extent we collude in that and expect to be protected by the state when it matters to us. It’s one of the reasons we have a democratically elected Government, which is our best, albeit clunky, way of finding a balance that is best for most people most of the time.

That was something the anonymous academic author overlooked by lumping the vaccine together with the general concept of medical procedures and fixating on vaccine passports which so far do not even exist. If I choose whether or not to be treated for cancer or heart disease, apart from the impact on my family, the only person affected by the outcome of that decision would be me. If I reject the treatment and go on to suffer terminal cancer or heart disease, I am not going to infect anyone else with either condition. If I do not learn to drive properly then I put other people at risk, not just myself.

A vaccination belongs to a special class of medical intervention because it is not based on the idea of only protecting the person who is being vaccinated. You may reject that idea out of hand and field all sorts of arguments to refute it (as indeed the anonymous author does) and complain bitterly having to prove one had been vaccinated will impinge on your civil liberties, but none of that will alter the fact that we are up against an international medical establishment and governments who believe vaccinations are an essential tool for disease control.

Therefore, their logic follows, if you reject a vaccine you are choosing not only to place yourself at risk but also others. I merely cite the argument there – again, you may not like that line of thinking, but that is what we face.

Being vaccinated or not has taken on a level of political and social significance never seen before. For those of us opposed to the incipient authoritarianism, the paradox is that vaccines may be the only way, at least at present, either to bring those controls to an end or expose governments for using the crisis as means to increase state power permanently.

Vaccines, in an historical sense, are relatively new. They have only become a part of everyday life in developed countries really over the last sixty years. It’s not especially surprising that we are still struggling to position them, both culturally and individually especially as no two diseases or vaccines are the same. Vaccines raise questions about whether or not they are effective against the disease concerned, whether they damage the immune system, and they also raise questions about the extent to which people should be encouraged or even obliged to have them. The latter consideration has arisen because vaccines only ‘work’ if most people have had them and thereby created ‘herd immunity’ in the population.

That’s why discussing all this and listening to each other matters so much. We already live in a society where we have accepted a range of limitations on our lives in ways deemed to maximise our freedom to do other things. I really don’t think treating the as-yet vague prospect of vaccine passports with lines like ‘Run down to the beach with flame-throwers, and bloody well incinerate the ghastly beast’ is going to help us decide or negotiate the best thing to do.

The supreme irony would be if that kind of position then turned into encouraging the very outcome the author is so opposed to. As Sun Tzu would point out, running headlong into fighting a battle is the best way to make sure of losing it.

June 2022
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