Should vaxxed Christians speak up against vaccine mandates — mandates that prevent the unvaxxed from working in many industries?
Or are vaccine mandates something that we should accept without question from our government, like so many other COVID policies?
The Unseen Impact of Vaccine Mandates
Last week, I touched on the issue of maintaining fellowship between Christians, whatever their stance on vaccine mandates.
After reading my post, a Christian friend who is against the mandates got in touch and wrote the following:
‘… I feel frustrated that this [blogpost] essentially is saying “let’s agree to disagree, it’s not a core issue, it’s a conscience issue”… while I believe vaccines are a jagged-line issue, there is a lot more to say about mandates… I (and many others) believe the vaccine mandates are evil [because they are] coercing people to take a drug that they do not believe to be safe…’
‘It’s not an agree to disagree situation. And as you said, doing nothing is a response, a response that condones a violation of human rights. Because I believe the mandates are a direct form of oppression from the government, I believe Churches should be made aware of the evil they are passively submitting to.’
Hundreds of thousands of people would agree — and are willing to be shut out of entire industries because of it.
Now I’m triple vaxxed and a supporter of vaccines: I think they’re very effective in reducing sickness and fatalities from COVID. But after doing some more thinking around this issue of mandates, here are my updated thoughts:
1) The Case For Vaccine Mandates
My starting premise on vaccine mandates, which I’ve argued for elsewhere, is as follows:
Government should not lock people out of entire industries for failing to take a vaccine unless the public health benefits outweigh the (immense) burden vaccine mandates place on the unvaxxed.
In other words, the government should not prevent people from working in entire industries unless there’s a good reason for it.
Thus, if governments prevented people from working in industries based on race or political views (for no good reason), that would be unjust. Think Jim Crow or communism. Unjustly restricting people from carrying out a function we’re designed for as God’s Image bearers — i.e. working — is an issue that the Bible would speak to more directly.
Thus, the question becomes: is there ever a good enough reason to shut people out of entire industries?
Now, sometimes there is:
But what about being unvaxxed? Is that a good enough reason to shut people out of industries they’ve been working in for decades?
Well, under the NSW Public Health Order for Education and Care Workers, a key reason for mandating vaccinations for school workers is decreased risk of transmission:
[T]he risk of transmission, including by means of community transmission, of COVID-19 in New South Wales will be reduced if all people eligible for vaccination who work at a government school, non-government school or an early education and care facility are fully vaccinated.
(Other Australian states such as Victoria have similar mandates.)
Now, when it comes to the Delta strain of COVID, there is evidence that vaccinated people are less transmissible.
Of course, it’s contestable whether the decreased rate of community transmission from vaccine mandates outweighs the immense burden placed on the small number of unvaxxed teachers (i.e. being shut out of the teaching profession) during the Delta wave. But at least there is evidence that vaccinations reduced the transmission of the Delta Strain of COVID.
The Bible doesn’t rule on this issue either way, so Christians should be free to make up their own minds.
But what about under the current Omicron strain? Are there still grounds for vaccine mandates now that the Omicron strain rages across our land?
2) The Case Against Vaccine Mandates in the Age of Omicron
As mentioned above, the NSW government’s key reason for vaccine mandates is that vaccinations reduce virus transmission.
But is this still the case in the Omicron age?
The latest evidence, according to the website of the Federal Government’s Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), states:
‘Preliminary data from large superspreading events in New South Wales involving younger people suggested that two doses of vaccine did not provide any significant protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection due to the Omicron variant… The rapid growth in [Omicron] case numbers relative to the Delta variant, as well as studies of contacts of cases demonstrating its higher secondary attack rate, provide evidence that Omicron can spread rapidly even in populations where there has been widespread infection and/or COVID-19 vaccination.’ [Emphasis added].
In other words, according to Federal Government data, the evidence points to the double jabbed having a similar transmissibility rate as the unvaxxed when it comes to Omicron.
We’ve seen this in the skyrocketing numbers of infections across Australia since the Omicron strain hit our shores, which coincided with record levels of double-dose vaccinations (85%+ in NSW in December).
Furthermore, according to ATAGI, there is no clear evidence yet that booster shots reduce transmission. When it comes to booster shots reducing COVID transmission, ATAGI says the following:
‘There is still little evidence on the incremental benefit of booster doses in protecting against severe disease or reducing onward transmission of Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, and on the duration of protection provided by COVID-19 booster doses.’ [Emphasis added]
But even if booster shots did reduce transmission, why would they need to be mandated in professions such as teaching? We’re currently in the Omicron wave in NSW – where, according to ATAGI, there has been no discernible difference in COVID transmissibility between double jabbed vaxxed and unvaxxed – and the public health outcomes haven’t exactly been dire, despite tens of thousands of cases. As the ABC website reports:
‘Hospital admissions have plateaued over the past week, as predicted, and modelling released by the NSW government showed the number of seriously ill people in ICU had been below [i.e. better than] “best case” scenarios.
Tens of thousands of Omicron cases when vaccinations didn’t reduce transmissibility, and the number of seriously ill people in ICU is below that of best-case modelling.
Does that sound like a compelling reason for vaccine mandates?
At best, I think the case for mandates is weaker in this age of Omicron than under Delta: we’re halfway through the Omicron wave, with minimal numbers having been boosted, and NSW has held up better than predicted. (Although if boosters did reduce transmission, I could see the case for mandating vaccinations for workplaces such as nursing homes, where the most vulnerable reside).
But even if boosters did reduce transmission, and similar numbers of people were boosted (voluntarily) as are double-vaxxed (85% + of people), then presumably the spread of Omicron would slow even further than now… and weaken the case for widespread vaccine mandates even more — especially in low-risk professions such as teaching.
With the above data, it’s hard to see how widespread vaccine mandates are a necessity, at least in New South Wales.
Could Christians Support Vaccine Mandates?
Thanks to new strains, I realise the COVID situation is rapidly evolving.
But an ethical public policy would respond to the changing situation by ensuring that public health benefits are not outweighed by the burdens imposed on the unvaxxed. We must not restrict people’s God-given right to work unless there are compelling reasons to do so.
With all that said, could a Christian support widespread vaccine mandates?
Personally, I’m finding it difficult to support widespread mandates in this Omicron wave, especially in professions working with low-risk groups (e.g. teachers). But I think it is possible if you have a high level of trust in government officials and their judgement. The danger of this position, of course, is that it minimises or ignores the pain our unvaxxed neighbours are going through for (thus far) negligible public health outcomes.
Whatever a Christian’s view on vaccine mandates, I think we do well to raise this increasingly urgent question with the government:
Why is such a high burden imposed on the unvaxxed through vaccine mandates when the public health benefits of those mandates have been negligible (thus far) in this Omicron wave?
At the very least, a greater onus should be on governments to publicly demonstrate the necessity of vaccine mandates.