The arguments given by those supporting vaccine passports sound impressive, but do they really hold water?
Last week I wrote 5 Reasons Why Vaccine Passports are an Ethical Disaster. It was met with plenty of praise and agreement—but more than a few rebuttals as well.
Some who disagreed with me are in open support of compulsory vaccinations; others simply believe that Christians have a moral duty to be vaccinated, whether the shot is mandatory or not. Below I respond to arguments made by those with either viewpoint.
1. “But we already need vaccine passports to travel to some countries.”
It is true that to visit some countries, you are required to present proof that you are immunised against diseases like smallpox, yellow fever or cholera.
But visiting the far-flung jungles of Africa or South America is worlds apart from visiting your local cafe, museum, church, workplace, or a nearby Australian state or territory. This is what the current vaccine passport debate is about.
These are apples-and-oranges comparisons. One is about the right of sovereign nations to determine who enters their borders and under what circumstances. The other is about freedoms that every Australian was born with, such as freedom of movement, association and assembly.
Advocates of vaccine passports are yet to explain why Australians should have these inalienable birthrights held hostage until they give up their medical autonomy.
2. “But flu vaccination is already mandated for entry into nursing homes.”
In some parts of Australia, people wanting to visit a loved one in a nursing home must show proof of an influenza vaccination before entry. Given that the primary purpose of a nursing home is to house and care for the elderly—who are on average much more vulnerable to influenza—there are obvious merits to such policies.
The same is true for ‘no jab, no play’ rules in childcare facilities. You don’t have to agree with these policies (I don’t) to see that the logic is to protect young children who are particularly susceptible to childhood diseases.
But to use this as the rationale for Covid-19 vaccine passports at all venues in the nation—which provide goods and services to people of all ages—is an extraordinary stretch. As such, an extraordinary amount of evidence must be provided by those arguing for it.
We know that while Covid-19 is a deadly disease for some, it is nowhere near as fatal to the general population as influenza is to the elderly. In fact, for the vast majority of people, both the original virus and its variants are no more (or less) dangerous than the flu.
Moreover, we know that while the Covid-19 vaccines reduce hospitalisations and deaths, they do not prevent transmission of the virus.
These facts do not constitute extraordinary evidence for forcing people to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
3. “But privately-owned venues are already allowed to ban smokers.”
Yes, privately-owned venues are allowed to ban smokers, but the minute a smoker removes the cigarette from their mouth, they can enter the venue. A patron visiting a particular establishment without shoes, a collared shirt or ID can likewise tidy themselves and freely enter.
Taking a vaccine is different. Vaccination is a medical treatment that, like all other medical treatments in Australia, is governed by the principle of informed consent.
Even if we entertain the comparison between taking a vaccine and disposing of a cigarette, privately-owned venues are still regulated by the government. A pub or restaurant cannot, for example, decide to exclude people who have HIV/AIDS. In NSW, ‘infectious diseases discrimination’ is against the law: this includes treating someone unequally on the assumption that they have or may acquire an infectious disease.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far indicated that the Federal Government won’t force venues to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entry: a welcome announcement. What is in question is whether the government should allow this kind of discrimination at all.
A strong case can be made that they should not. Renowned legal scholar Professor Augusto Zimmermann argues that vaccine passports “unconstitutionally impinge on the democratic principle of equality before the law and the free movement of Australian citizens within their own country.”
Whether we turn to Australia’s Constitution and subsequent case law, our nation’s anti-discrimination legislation, or even the ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusion’ rhetoric that has dominated our airwaves for the last five years—Australian governments should be acting to prevent this kind of medical discrimination.
4. “But the government already mandates other safety measures.”
It has also been argued that since the government has the right to make us wear seatbelts or stop at traffic lights, they should also have the right to make us get a vaccine.
Once again, these situations are chalk and cheese. One of them involves obeying momentary directives; the other requires handing over one’s medical autonomy to the State without any assurance that the State will hand it back again.
Other nations such as Israel are already mandating a third booster shot and planning a fourth. These passports come with no sunset clause. It takes immense—one might argue naive—trust in government to assume that this infrastructure won’t be broadened by present and future governments.
5. “But other countries are already using vaccine passports.”
Other nations are indeed already using vaccine passports. But this has been met with considerable unrest, with mass protests breaking out in cities across Europe—even if corporate media outlets are being deliberately silent about these historical events.
Representative democracy was established so that a nation’s laws would reflect the will of its people. But when political leaders make unilateral decisions under emergency health orders, they effectively bypass the people’s will. Mass protests are an indication that a leader’s decisions may not accurately reflect the will of those who elected them.
The use of vaccine passports elsewhere does not mean Australia will inevitably follow suit. By speaking up on this issue, Australians can and should seek to influence the decision-making of their leaders.
It is also a flawed argument to suggest that Australia should mandate vaccines because other countries are doing so. Other nations allow grown men to marry child brides. Should we do the same? A nation’s laws should not be shaped by global groupthink but by the will of its citizens—ideally guided by God’s moral law.
6. “But vaccine passports will bring us greater freedom.”
The idea that vaccine passports will somehow grant us ‘greater freedom’ is a semantic trick that some political leaders have used and that many have believed and repeated.
I love freedom. Who doesn't love freedom? I want freedom from being amongst the over 4 million official (and likely 10 million actual) COVID deaths globally. And freedom from being amongst the over 13 million current active cases. Or millions of current Long COVID cases. 1/
— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) July 24, 2021
It is a semantic trick because what is meant is not greater freedom but greater safety. Driven by exaggerated panic, people hope that vaccine mandates will deliver them freedom from fear or freedom from death. But to be clear, these are functional synonyms for safety.
The civic freedoms endangered by vaccine passports—such as freedom of movement and the right to bodily integrity—have precise definitions. More safety is always possible when we give up civil liberties. After all, one of the safest places in the world is solitary confinement; but that doesn’t make solitary confinement an optimal life choice.
In every case, we must ask whether the freedoms we give up—freedoms that our ancestors bled and died on foreign soil to protect—are worth the safety promised to us in that exchange. And we can hardly have a rational debate about such weighty matters when words are used to conceal rather than reveal someone’s true intent.
7. “But vaccine passports are just temporary.”
I have been asked why I assume vaccine passports will be permanent. But I believe this is the wrong question. A better question would be, why do you assume vaccine passports will be temporary?
At the beginning of 2020, if I had told you that the Australian government would force people to stay inside their homes for months at a time and only be allowed to exercise for an hour a day, would you have believed me?
What if I told you there would be mass unrest with police firing rubber bullets at unarmed protesters? What about state borders being shut at the drop of a hat? Military patrolling the city streets? Governments requiring you to tell them your every move, including—if you are single—which other individual you were liaising with?
Of course, every one of these measures has been justified as being “for the greater good”. But that’s precisely the point. In the name of public health and safety, the government’s role in our lives has only become more intrusive and onerous since the beginning of the pandemic.
It is not ‘acting out of fear’ to warn that the vaccine passports being rolled out now may end up becoming a permanent fixture of daily life. On the contrary, this is an entirely sober and realistic prediction—though one I would be delighted to be wrong about.
For context, in August, the World Health Organisation released an 80-page document providing ‘implementation guidance’ for vaccine passports. They aimed to equip all WHO member states to develop passports that are ‘interoperable’—that is, passports that can be used within and between all of the world’s nations.
Indeed, long before the Covid-19 pandemic began, the European Commission had laid out a roadmap to implement a standard vaccination passport for EU citizens.
There is a global mood for these passports. Governments are spending billions of dollars on them. Again, what would lead us to assume they are temporary?
8. “But no one is suggesting churches should ban the unvaccinated.”
Once again, in response to the question “Who is seriously considering barring unvaccinated people from church?” one could reply, “Who was seriously considering locking Australians inside their homes before 2020 began?”
Moreover, a recent Christianity Today article suggested that although limiting gatherings to only vaccinated congregants would be resisted by many churches, “the idea isn’t new [and] the use of health passes could become commonplace in the coming months.”
In an Australian context, the vocal and widespread opposition to The Ezekiel Declaration suggests that many Australian Christians are willing to exclude unvaccinated people from church services in the name of health and safety.
Before I could finish writing this article, the New South Wales government announced a soon-to-be-confirmed rule that places of worship must use vaccine passports to exclude the unvaccinated.
NSW Government to require churches to use vaccination certificates for entry into worship. pic.twitter.com/Ad1KnVlBcC
— Caldron Pool (@CaldronPool) September 6, 2021
This eleventh-hour development is further evidence—if we needed it—that those still instinctively hoping for government leniency are letting themselves be led up the garden path.
9. “But the vaccines are safe.”
The vaccines have proven safe for the majority of those who have taken them. But this does not mean they should be mandated. Many things are healthy for us—whether vitamins, exercise or vegetables—that governments have no business forcing upon us.
It is important to note, however, that the vaccines have not been safe for everyone. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) reports that nine Australians have lost their lives as a direct result of taking a Covid-19 vaccine—one from Pfizer and eight from AstraZeneca.
(The TGA has received 490 further reports of death following a Covid-19 vaccination, but in these cases, a causal link to the vaccine was not explicitly confirmed).
Some 55,000 adverse events have been reported to the TGA in connection with the Covid-19 vaccines. Most of these were minor and short-lived, but some have been serious. Channel 7 reporter Denham Hitchcock, for example, has suffered debilitating complications since taking the jab.
In the United States, almost 14,000 deaths have been reported following a Covid-19 vaccination through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). This number represents 60 per cent of all vaccine deaths that have ever been reported to VAERS since it was set up in 1990.
Not all VAERS data is bias-free or accurate since reports are made to it voluntarily. But it is also true that reporting a death is a time-consuming task that comes with no personal benefit—and possible scrutiny—for any medical professional who submits it. So 14,000 is likely to be a floor rather than a ceiling for Covid-19 vaccine deaths in America.
In addition to this, some 650,000 adverse events have been reported to VAERS following a Covid-19 vaccination. Most of these are minor, but thousands of miscarriages, heart attacks, and permanent disabilities are included in this number.
Given that lockdowns, travel bans, and mask mandates were so often justified on the basis that they might save “even one life”, it is ironic if people now justify these deaths and injuries as mere collateral damage in the vaccine rollout.
It is also callous to suggest that any talk of vaccine deaths or injuries will harm the vaccine rollout. These are real people who have died or suffered in life-altering ways. Their lives matter as much as those we are seeking to protect from Covid-19.
10. “But the risk of Covid-19 outweighs the risk of the vaccine.”
It is true that, on balance, the risk posed by the virus outweighs the risk of taking the vaccine. But this fact comes as cold comfort for the person who dies from a vaccine and for the loved ones they leave behind.
This point was well-argued in a recent Caldron Pool article.
Caldron Pool likewise pointed out that human beings are not robots: we approach risk in different ways. Some people are so risk-averse that they never travel by aeroplane; others live for the thrill of BASE jumping or motocross despite the significant dangers of these sports. We all agree that these are decisions people should be free to make themselves, not have imposed on them by others.
Additionally, if given a choice between being killed ‘artificially’ at the hands of another person or by an event of nature that may happen sometime in the vague, unknowable future, most people would choose the latter. This explains why many young, healthy people with robust immune systems prefer to take their chance with the virus rather than the vaccine. This choice should be left to them, not forced on them.
Covid-19 is a highly discriminatory disease that poses particular dangers to the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with co-morbidities. For such people, taking the vaccine is a no-brainer. But this is an argument for vaccines, not compulsory vaccines.
Let the healthy 18-year-old man who has just a 0.003 per cent chance of dying from Covid-19—but who could die of a vaccine complication—assess his risks each way, free of coercive mandates.
11. “But the unvaccinated could end up killing people.”
The Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to reduce hospitalisations and deaths significantly. But nations with high vaccination rates still see high rates of transmission and infection.
In other words, the benefit of the vaccine is almost entirely personal. It protects the person who takes it and may help slow transmission of the virus, but it cannot prevent them from passing it on to others.
So people should be encouraged to take the vaccine for their protection. But the idea that being vaccinated will render significant benefits to others is yet to be established. This is a wish; it is not a fact. Therefore, barring unvaccinated people from society is not only unethical; it is also ineffectual.
12. “But the healthcare system will be overwhelmed if you don’t get vaccinated.”
Now that most at-risk people have been vaccinated, the pressure on Australia’s healthcare system is significantly reduced, though modellers and governments remain vigilant.
For someone likely to need hospitalisation if they fall sick with Covid-19, it is a selfless act for them to be vaccinated. But this doesn’t mean it should be made mandatory for all people regardless of their risk profile.
13. “But Christians should give up their rights.”
Through his life and teachings, Jesus made it clear that we are to give up our rights for the benefit of others. Theoretically, this could be applied to freely deciding to get vaccinated. But it certainly doesn’t work for vaccine mandates: Jesus didn’t teach us to demand that others give up their rights for us—which is precisely what proponents of vaccine passports are arguing.
In fact, this teaching of Jesus would only apply to being vaccinated if, by taking the vaccine, I could prevent deaths in others. We are yet to see clear evidence of this in the case of the Covid-19 vaccines.
Furthermore, Jesus taught us to die to ourselves, but this command has limits. It is not ‘Christlike’ for someone to endure abuse, violence or sexual predation at the hands of their spouse. A similar example is Communism, where your rights and property are fully surrendered to the State—but this philosophy led to 150 million deaths. There must be a limiting principle to giving up our rights.
If someone has a very low risk of dying from Covid-19, and if the vaccine will not prevent them from spreading the virus to others, it may not make sense for them to take it. It certainly doesn’t make sense for us to force them to, nor would it be Christlike for us to demand this.
In fact, given that natural immunity has been found to be up to 13 times better than vaccine immunity, it could be argued that the most selfless thing for a young and healthy person to do is to contract the virus naturally and recover.
I often hear the criticism that Christians who disagree with vaccine mandates are selfish for demanding their rights. Actually, I have encountered very few Christians making this point.
Instead, I see Christians seeking to protect the rights and freedoms of those who, for a whole swathe of reasons, may not want or be able to take the vaccine. In making this stand, they are weathering a lot of opposition for the benefit of others; they are applying the teaching of Jesus to die to self.
Unfortunately, there are many today who are not conversant with history. We have had it so good for so long that we don’t understand the importance of civil liberties.
Freedoms are a safeguard, not a luxury. Human liberties protect the weak by restraining the powerful. It is the defence of freedom that has long prevented tyrants from terrorising ordinary people. The worst abuses of history were only made possible when fundamental freedoms were cast aside.
If you shrug off freedoms in the name of ‘loving your neighbour’, know that the neighbours you have chosen to love are the world’s powerful. And it is the powerless who will eventually pay the price. Instead, be like Jesus and sacrifice your popularity to defend the freedoms of others.
By all means, get vaccinated if you will. But don’t force others to: that is a demand we should not make.