While libertarian principles might be laudable, they come at a price and they come in a package. One is either fully committed to libertarian views or one is not- it cannot be a pick and mix deal. Woolworths is a thing of the past!
This is why the present government is in a mess. We cannot have an imposed lockdown and then go on and offer a vaccine as a choice. It makes no sense at all and it is inconsistent. Our liberties were compromised by the lockdown and when we need universal take-up of the vaccine to ensure that it is fully efficacious, we should not be pussy-footing around and thinking of our what others will say about us.
In this respect, though in probably no other, Dominic Cummings’ instinct towards dictatorship is right, albeit utterly repulsive. These half measures we have embraced as a nation, and indeed globally, are nonsensical. We went into lockdown late (and without a proper shut-down of our borders) and suffered as a result. Our economy has been hit badly by the double-whammy of brexit and covid, but also by the indicision and arrogance of those in power. We are now bizarrely over-zealous about the “rights of individuals” to refuse the vaccine and this pandering will also be calamitous. We will all suffer as a consequence. At its worst, a new variant may emerge, incubated by those taking a stand against vaccination, and any further boosters will prove useless against it. We need to wipe this disease out once and for all and we need to set upo a solid response about pandemics in the future. Much of our stupidity over the last 18 months can be put down to a lack of preparation. That must not happen again.
My instinct, however, is with Lord Sumption and libertarianism, but once the rubicon is crossed, it seems to me that we cannot mess around worrying about our reputation (as he alleges the Prime Minister does). Boris needs to wake up and take the responsibility he has been given.
We must be mindful of others. That is the purpose both of lockdown and of vaccination. Government must recognise its duty is not to itself or its own srvival but to the others it serves.
Should the vaccine be mandatory?
In an ideal world, any vaccine should be a matter of choice (our “inalienable rights”), but this is about checking the spread of a potentially dangerous disease and one that oddly seems to become worse with each new variant. The vaccine may not be mandatory at the moment but maybe that was a bad call by the Government- if lockdown was mandatory, and if social distancing is mandatory, than the vaccine should be too- it makes no sense otherwise, and yes, I know about “informed choice” and our “inalienable rights” but we cannot pick and choose where we exercise those rights- these rights were suspended in lockdown and it seems absurd to worry now about allowing those rights to be exercised over vaccination. The rule has already been broken and pussy-footing about the vaccination is crying over spilt milk.
What about young people and children?
Lord Sumption points out as do others that the disease affects very few healthy children and that, because of that, there is no reason to close schools. This misses the point that schools are run by adults who are certainly susceptible to the disease and seem also to be able to catch it from children who act as unwitting carriers. Again, the language is at fault.
There are educational systems on offer that might work well in any future pandemic but to assume teachers trained in classroom technique can automatically adjust to teaching on line is to live in cloud cookoo-land. I have been working for the past 5 years, on a system where information can be generated on line and used as a resource in classrooms and for home-schooling. Essentially, lessons can be stored and used much as library books and text books are used. Versions of this are certainly being trialled in universities but the project, as we imagined it, was really planned for schools. As a result, we have seen many schools and children struggling with courses and with basic education while some teachers have found themselves teaching live lessons to a handful of children and being filmed for others stuck at home- once again, a half-way solution that fails absolutely for want of preparation. We have the resources and the ground-work/preparation has been done but a good deal of chaos in education, I believe, generated by the Secretary of state and his team, has left students of all ages -and their parents- without proper support.
Trials and legal issues
The various vaccines on offer are enswamped in chaos – some of it genuine and some fake news. The variety of vaccines on offer do not generate confidence. The Russian and Chinese vaccines seem to be of limited value while other vaccines seem more robust. I was disturbed by the side effects I experienced after the first vaccine, but, at this stage, it is the only route forward that I can see.
I have now had 2 vaccines: I hope this means that I shall be able to interact with others, even those who have spurned the vaccine. I do not intend to take the same draconian steps as Ryan Mark Parsons, but I think that, as a society, we need more commitment to this vaccine innovation – we can think of Napoleon’s efforts to vaccinate his troops against smallpox: there was initially a choice but it led to a limited rollout and vaccination became mandatory in all public spaces by 1812, guanteeing success and the elimination of a disease that killed 90% of all the children it infected. By 1958, the smallpox vaccine was routune across the world and by 1980 the disease was eradicated.
A third or fourth lockdown will be catastrophic to our economy. In contrast, a proper vaccination rollout is cheaper and its benefits longer-lasting. The lockdown is something out of the middle ages- venice was saved by quarantine but at a cost (think of the work of the wonderful Veronika Franco!). The vaccine is a modern and much more targeted solution. We would be silly to spurn the modern for the older solution, but be in no doubt, if the vaccine is not taken up or remains voluntary and is often rejected, our only other line of defence is a speedy and efficient lockdown. Every time lockdown is invoked, it gets more aggressive because we are learning how to best implement it and quickly enforce it. It can only get worse, and our hard-won liberties will be lost, if this is the solution we eventually favour and this is, as far as I can judge, the only solution available if we reject the vaccine.
We may still achieve the elusive “herd immunity” if most people take up the vaccine. But Kant’s categorical imperative lurks by the door- if I benefit from the selfless actions of others who have the vaccine, why should I decide that it is not right for me?
The problem with mandatory vaccination programmes, of course, to the Goivernment’s credit, is that they do not actually work. (and there are still people who defy the smoking bans indoors as well as the phoning and seatbelt laws currently in force in cars). There is, for instance, some evidence of past vaccination programmes particularly in the Baltics that have found as many people evaded the jab as would have done so had it been a voluntary affair. So there is some purpose to giving out information and presenting the vaccine as voluntary- just as we could have made the lockdown voluntary. Information and encouragement is reasonable but perhaps the illusion of freedom and choice sends out the wrong message.Living in a world where we are only ever guarenteed the ILLUSION of choice is rather like living in a world ruled by Virgin media. We can do better than that.