Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Featured Opinion

Accepting a mandatory lockdown but not a vaccine makes no sense

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Cyprus’ army for facing the invisible enemy consists of our doctors and nurses who are using this new weapon to defeat it

Heads of state, top politicians and the media have been quite right to liken the health crisis caused by Covid-19 to “a war against an invisible enemy”. Military and war metaphors have become obligatory ever since the coronavirus was first recognised, a usual narrative motif when describing the human body resisting the attacks of a virus.

The question is whether we will win this war. Fortunately for humanity a new weapon has been developed for fighting this invisible enemy – the vaccine. Without this, the outcome of the war would not have been at all certain. If the weapon is used correctly, we will soon celebrate victory. The prospects are encouraging. In the UK, where half the population has now been vaccinated (at least once), there were no deaths caused by the coronavirus on March 28 and 29 compared to January when it caused about 200 deaths per day.

Cyprus’ army for facing the invisible enemy consists of our doctors and nurses who are using this new weapon to defeat it. This will happen through the vaccination of all the population or at least of a large percentage of it to achieve herd immunity. Everyone understands that the first people that need to be vaccinated, for obvious reasons, are the health professionals – doctors and nurses. And yet, while countries fight over which of them is entitled to more vaccines from the pharmaceutical companies and the general public compete to be vaccinated first, a large proportion of the doctors and nurses in Cyprus (25 per cent and 55 per cent respectively according to the state health services Okypy) do not wish to be vaccinated. Incredible.

If this is not desertion, what is? Is this not deserting the battle against an invisible enemy? Thankfully, the leadership of the doctors is aware of the gravity of the situation. Speaking to Politis radio, Dr Constantinos Denias, geneticist at the University of Cyprus medical school, said “it is not a paradox that doctors and nurses do not want to be vaccinated but unbelievable. There are no arguments.”

I am at a loss to understand the unwillingness of doctors and nurses to be vaccinated. I could understand the misgivings of someone with no scientific education, but not those of a doctor or nurse, not after everything that has happened in the last year and after the recommendations of the European Medicines Association and WHO about the necessity of the vaccination. The doctors and nurses that ignore the recommendations of these two organisations without explaining their positions (which should be based on scientific arguments) have chosen the wrong profession.

If we chose to enter deeper waters and examined whether the Covid-19 vaccine should be mandatory, then the issue becomes more complicated as we would be touching on bioethics. Economists, however, in their professional capacity, at least, would unreservedly support mandatory vaccinations because the social benefits (that include preventing unemployment and reducing GDP) far outweigh the social cost. They would have as their ally the English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, who said the only justification for using state force (and restricting liberty) is when an individual threatens to harm others as is the case with those infected by Covid-19. It follows that the less oppressive (or painful) it is for a person to do something that prevents harm to others, and the greater the harm that is prevented, the more compelling is the justification for introducing mandatory vaccination. In this case, the harm caused is huge as we are talking about millions of deaths worldwide.

When we compare the lockdown with the vaccination we arrive at useful conclusions on this issue. Lockdown has been obligatory because, like mandatory vaccination, it protects vulnerable people from Covid-19. But, as many social scientists, doctors and dietologists have argued in detail, the lockdown entails a much bigger individual and social cost than mandatory vaccination – for example, increase in suicides and domestic family violence and lack of exercise – and its results are much less spectacular. In short, mandatory vaccination could ensure a much greater social benefit with a much lower cost than the lockdown. It is therefore inconsistent to accept the compulsory lockdown while at the same time rejecting mandatory vaccination.

I think there is an innocuous solution for the vaccination of the whole population: I remember smallpox was eliminated thanks to an ‘international vaccination certificate’ that we all had to show before travelling abroad, until about 1970. This system could be adopted by the EU for Covid-19. If someone is unable to travel abroad without a vaccination certificate, what would he do? As if by magic, the problem is solved with smiles and not tears.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

 

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