Many Australians affirm mandatory vaccination without considering the implications. But no matter how you look at it, vaccine passports are an ethical disaster.
A year ago, mandatory vaccines were almost unimaginable, the stuff of science fiction. Now vaccine passports are being presented to us as the best—if not the only—way out of Australia’s covid crisis.
Recent data indicates that up to 80 per cent of Australian adults are not opposed to being vaccinated. This raises the question as to why vaccine mandates are even necessary.
Despite this, a growing number of Australia’s industries, postcodes and even states are making it impossible for people to go about daily life without proof of vaccination. It appears increasingly likely that a digital vaccine certificate will be required in many parts of Australia for entry into pubs, restaurants, cafes, businesses, public buildings and even places of worship.
From a policy standpoint, vaccine passports may make sense. But they are also profoundly unethical. And this is not an abstract argument. Vaccine mandates are causing significant hardship and distress for ordinary Australians who have already suffered under debilitating lockdowns. And they are a source of great angst for those not yet affected but fearful of what the future holds.
Consider five reasons why vaccine passports are an ethical disaster.
1. Vaccine passports are an unprecedented threat to liberty
Those defending compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations often cite ‘no jab, no play’ policies already enforced in Australia. But nothing in our nation’s history comes close to what is presently being rolled out.
Australians have always been free to work, shop, travel, socialise and gather for worship without medical discrimination. Vaccine passports will force Australians to choose between these birthrights and their medical autonomy. To give the State this level of power over an individual’s body represents a loss of personal liberty unheard of in modern times.
Western democracies like Australia have always prized and protected human freedoms. In defining ‘Australian values’, the Department of Home Affairs website puts “respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual” at the top of its list.
Australia’s emphasis on human rights and liberties emerged out of Christian theology which says that a person’s conscience is sacred and must not be infringed or usurped by State power. Indeed, the worst abuses of the last century were only made possible when governments were allowed to trespass this boundary.
For the common good and future generations, we must not allow the individual’s conscience and bodily integrity to be violated.
2. Vaccine passports replace informed consent with coercion
Informed consent is a bedrock principle of modern medicine. The Australian Immunisation Handbook explicitly states that vaccines “must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation”.
Grave human rights abuses led to the drafting of important international agreements on this matter. Free consent is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is also articulated in Article 6 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:
Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information.
To make vaccines mandatory—to hold a person’s civil liberties at ransom in exchange for their being vaccinated—is to erase informed consent and replace it with naked coercion.
3. Vaccine passports assume no reasonable grounds for declining vaccination
A sweeping assumption is made by governments and businesses that mandate vaccinations—namely, that there are no reasonable grounds for someone to decide against being vaccinated. In fact, there are many good reasons.
The first and most obvious is someone’s medical history. The TGA tells us that the various Covid-19 vaccines come with risks. For someone who suffers from underlying conditions or has in the past, the risk of taking the vaccine may outweigh the benefits it gives them. They should be allowed to make this decision in consultation with their doctor: this is a right we have always preserved and should continue to.
There are many other reasons someone might decline vaccination. A person’s religious beliefs or deeply-felt personal convictions might prevent them from giving consent. Another person might weigh the risks and benefits of the vaccine based on their young age and good health and decide that the procedure is unnecessary.
An 18-year-old boy, for instance, has just a 0.003 per cent chance of dying from Covid-19. He is more likely to die from electrocution, sunstroke or a sharp object than he is to die of the virus. Given that nine Australians have died as a direct result of taking a Covid-19 vaccine and many more have suffered a vaccine injury, this particular young man might prefer to take his chance with the virus—a choice that should be left up to him.
Of course, there are also those who have previously been infected who now carry virus antibodies. Why should they be forced to take the vaccine when they already have substantial immunity?
4. Vaccine passports create unreasonable discrimination
The covid pandemic has resulted in the most significant wealth exchange in history, further exacerbating the gap between rich and poor. In addition, the social fabric in nations like Australia has been worn thin by the pain and division caused by covid restrictions.
Vaccine passports will only further tear at that social fabric. To exclude ten or twenty per cent of the population from routine daily activities will create a two-tiered society, a form of medical apartheid. The harm will be felt most by those already marginalised.
This kind of discrimination may not even be legal. According to Anti-Discrimination NSW, for example, ‘infectious diseases discrimination’ is against the law. This includes unfair treatment on the assumption that someone has or may acquire an infectious disease.
Legal frameworks like this were put in place to stop people from being excluded from society despite any marginal health risk they pose to the public. We should not abandon our principled commitment to inclusion and social harmony now.
5. Vaccine passports open the door to untold medical control
My digital vaccine certificate might glow green today. But what about when it turns orange tomorrow, and I have to book in my booster shot to maintain my access to society? What about when I have to get another one in six months? And a flu shot. And routine blood tests. Every year on repeat.
My body and my medical treatment regime is now tied to the State, who will be increasingly tempted to provide my biomedical data to third parties—all for public health and safety, of course.
This is not some far-fetched dystopian dream. It is the most likely long-term scenario if we roll out mandatory vaccines today. Vaccine passports place us on the precipice: once we jump, we won’t go back. They are the thin edge of the wedge to significant medical control, and it is naive to think otherwise.
Thomas Jefferson wisely warned that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” Or, as Australian historian Stephen Chavura frames it in our context:
When Covid hit in early 2020, did you think 18 months later we’d have riots in the streets, police shooting rubber bullets at civilians, the military prowling around, church leaders debating whether or not to let unvaccinated people worship in churches, truckies planning to shut the country down, and vaccine passports to enter into restaurants, see friends and family, travel, and even to continue in your job? Did you think you’d no longer be able to enter into any private or public establishment without registering your whereabouts to the State?
Civil liberties are eroded piecemeal, never all at once. And often, it is by those who wish us well. As Chavura qualifies, “This is not being driven by monsters. It’s being driven by saints. People who know how to fix our world now have the science, technology, and power to do it.”
Even if we grant that our governments have good intentions, vaccine passports are an ethical disaster. We must resist them at all costs, and we now have a very narrow window of time in which to do so.