With 23 vaccines currently in human trials, many predict that the COVID-19 vaccine will be fully developed by the start of 2021. Only then, with mass vaccination in the following months, will we achieve herd immunity, and be able to go back to ‘normal’. With social distancing and face masks, not necessarily a thing of the past, but things to be less concerned about in our daily lives.
However, here comes a sticking point, is forcing vaccination a violation of an individual’s right to autonomy? There is a growing anti-vax movement set on refusing the vaccine, seeing it as a means of control rather than immunisation. Anti-vaxxers doubt its scientific credibility since it will have been developed in a much shorter timescale than most other vaccines. If developed by next year the COVID vaccine would be revolutionary, since the average time it takes to develop most vaccines is 10 years.
I’m going to throw my neck out and agree with anti-vaxxers, to an extent. Forcing everyone to take a vaccine is in some ways an infringement of a person’s individual rights. In the UK we live in a country that claims to champion individual rights, the right to choose what happens to one’s body and in one’s life. This argument has proven useful in many campaigns for causes such as minority rights, LGBTQ+ rights and abortion for centuries. With this in mind, it would be naïve to dismiss the anti-vax argument as totally fanatic.
It is grounded in a long tradition of proud individualism. The fear of having a strange substance syringed into your arm, sanctioned externally by governmental decree, comes from a similar place to a woman’s fear of being powerless to decide when they are to give birth. However, the striking difference between these situations is the person’s trust in science.
The anti-vax movement has undoubtedly been around much longer, but in recent years we have witnessed a growing distrust in scientific institutions. See the 5G conspiracy theories and climate change sceptics as examples of this. Peddled by misinformation and fear, this has led to large proportions of populations planning to refuse the vaccine.
King’s College London and Ipsos MORI researchers report only 53% Britons are certain or highly likely to get the vaccine and a sixth say they will definitely not. Since we need at least 60% of the population immune for ‘normality’ to resume, anti-vax sentiment is actually extremely dangerous when felt widely.
Science is something to be trusted. Vaccines have countless times been proven a benefit to humanity. Without them smallpox, eradicated in the late 70s, and polio, soon to be eradicated worldwide, would still be scarring innumerable lives. And yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is being developed at breakneck speed in comparison to others, but countries and institutions are throwing more resources than ever before behind the research, as we’ve never been a similar pandemic situation, when we have had vaccine technologies.
Therefore, we can rest assured that vaccination is our best weapon against COVID-19.
A difficult line between individual rights and medical necessity must be trod. In the same way that is has been near impossible to enforce face mask use, the taking of vaccines cannot be compulsory, but must be strongly encouraged.
This encouragement can come in the form that many countries are already suggesting; those who do not accept the vaccine may be restricted from attending mass public events, or must continue with certain COVID measures we are already practicing, until at least 60% of the population are immune. It is not draconian; it is necessary to prevent future deadly waves of COVID-19. We must think beyond our immediate circles and transcend individualism to a degree.
Nevertheless, it is also extremely important for medical research bodies to be completely transparent about the vaccine, making all their findings public, for everyone to see and understand. This will help dispel myths and conspiracies about the consequences of taking the vaccine.
As I have said, I believe the anti-vax argument is somewhat rational at its core — it is searching for truth, where it perceives lies, which is a natural human reaction. However, if the research about vaccine development is visibly available, proper education will dismantle scepticism and misperceived realities. More people will then feel comfortable accepting the vaccine, which is the best way for everyone to move forward.
By Harrison Newsham
Image: Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) Via Unsplash