Take your medicine, proles

Critical thinking is such an overrated and redundant skill. They’ve clearly phased it out at Notre Dame University, Australia, as this fisk demonstrates:

Our best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic is a safe and effective vaccine, but faced with polls suggesting a large number of people will refuse to be immunised, governments must consider making it mandatory.

Our best hope?

Epidemiologist Martin Kuldorff suggests herd immunity is the most likely scenario ($ subscription required), either by accepting the young will get it or by eventually finding a vaccine. He’s sceptical a vaccine will be found any time soon though.

It’s not just card-carrying anti-vaxxers that will refuse. Surveys in the United States and France indicate about one in four adults would refuse a vaccine, and one in six in Britain.

Let’s give Chesterton’s Fence another run out. It’s incumbent on the supporters of a yet to be developed vaccine to prove its usefulness and safety.

Maybe survey the “anti-vaxxers” again at that point?

Given the incredibly high costs of unnecessarily extending the COVID-19 crisis, it seems reasonable to consider whether governments should make vaccinations mandatory. In recent months, we have come to accept extraordinary government restrictions that would ordinarily be unconscionable in liberal democracies. If you think − as most of us do − that these constraints are an acceptable price to pay to help curb the pandemic’s damage, then a mandatory vaccination policy deserves serious consideration.

Most of us?

DeTocqueville’s tyranny of the majority, much?

This proposal might strike you as outrageous, but it’s not without precedent. In 1905, inhabitants of Cambridge, Massachusetts were required to be vaccinated against smallpox. Only last year, New York City required anyone over six months of age (in certain parts of the city) to be vaccinated against measles. Since March this year, Germany has required all parents to have their children vaccinated against measles. In all these cases, if an individual were to refuse they would be fined.

By 1905, the smallpox vaccine was over a hundred years old and it was clear what the benefits vs side effects were.

Not quite the same as a yet to be developed vaccine, is it?

Although lockdown conditions reduce your wellbeing, the personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations, since your chances of being infected will lower dramatically if the vaccine has wide and quick uptake.

The personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs.

That’s a bold statement of fact with absolutely no supporting evidence. It’s also probably about two to three years too early to be certain; have you counted the cost of undetected cancers, for example?

According to a more altruistic justification, a lockdown, and all its associated costs, is acceptable because we have a moral obligation to put others’ wellbeing ahead of our own − especially when the threat to others is as serious as death and the costs to oneself are much smaller. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations.

Non sequitur.

Giving up one’s freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated is just another way of making a relatively small sacrifice from one’s stock of personal liberties out of altruistic concern for others.

Mandatory vaccinations aren’t exactly “giving up” freedom, more taking it. Nice flip of language, though.

All vaccinations carry some risk and these might be higher in the case of a quickly developed vaccine for a novel virus. But a mandatory vaccine policy can manage such risks sensibly, for instance by allowing exemptions for high-risk individuals. Once we do this, it’s not obvious that mandatory vaccinations run a greater risk of unintentional harm than lockdown, factoring in the long-lasting economic, social, domestic, and psychological consequences of lockdowns.

Who gets to decide? It doesn’t sound like those high-risk individuals get to choose.

Were such a policy to be implemented, we would need to think carefully about how to respond to citizens who outright refuse to comply. But this problem faces mandatory lockdown policies, too, and has proved surmountable.

As with lockdown, some uses of state force are acceptable − such as fines − and some are unacceptable − such as welding doors shut. As with lockdown, some exemptions are appropriate, perhaps for individuals who have serious moral objections to the ingredients or manufacturing conditions of a vaccine.

And there we have it. It’s a call to use the State’s monopoly on violence for the author’s preferred strategy.

Were entire communities to refuse a vaccine, as may occur in places such as Mullumbimby with a high concentration of anti-vaxxers, it may be appropriate to have more stringent social restrictions in place for a time in these communities.

It may sound draconian, but a mandatory vaccination policy enjoys solid prudential and moral justification. And it may be our only way of ending the COVID-19 crisis.

It may sound draconian.

Ya reckon? Forcing people to accept a vaccination yet to be developed rushed through in record time without the benefit of the full due diligence normally undertaken to ensure the cure isn’t worse than the disease; draconian? Yeah, just a teeny bit.

Tim Smartt is a lecturer in moral philosophy at the Institute for Ethics and Society, University of Notre Dame Australia.

I’m guessing logical fallacies aren’t on the curriculum he teaches.

Bill’s Opinion

I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m also not in a hurry to be injected with any substance that hasn’t had the benefit of the massive due diligence, testing and peer review processes every other vaccine is subject to before being approved for use.

Despite what a lecturer in ethics at a 3rd rate regional university might say, perhaps a little medical evidence might be the more appropriate guide on how to proceed.

6 Replies to “Take your medicine, proles”

  1. I’m worried that the vaccine idea will cause the next shifting of the goalposts.
    First we had to lock down to flatten the curve and stop hospitals from being overwhelmed. Then we had to lock down to suppress the infection rate even though hospitals still have plenty of capacity. Then we needed to eliminate it. Next, we’ll not be allowed to open up until everyone’s been vaccinated, which will mean restrictions for years.
    The lack of dissent is starting to worry me. Are there any polls on this? I keep thinking, this madness will have to end soon, but the successful curbing of infections in Australia instead means that the lack of immunity will allow frequent outbreaks, and lockdowns, for many years to come.
    The whole clusterfeck reminds me of Prohibition – governments thinking that their power over the Universe is much greater than it is.

    1. The lack of dissent is the most depressing part of this sorry affair.
      It’s incumbent on those who wish to take freedoms away, even temporarily, to prove the case to do so.
      The fact that so few are questioning the shitty data behind these restrictions tells us all we need to know about the somnambulant nature of our fellow citizens.

  2. To a first order approximation anything out of, say, Oxford I will have a default of having the vaccination given acceptable side effectS. Anything out of China and my default will be to wait and see given that country’s poor record of quality control in health and food production, and fondness for being economical with the actualité of just about everything.

    If that makes me an anti-vaxxer so be it.

  3. The acceptance of what is Marshall law, particularly in Victoria has worried me since the beginning of lockdowns in March. Keeping a hard border in wa has 96% support. When I say radical things like ‘maybe we are going to have to learn how to live with it’, people look at me like I am some kind of butcher of the elderly. We are going to pay for this in many ways….

  4. 1. Bardon’s continued absence perturbs me.
    2. We atheists commonly point to virii as proof of evolution. A vaccine developed today will be out of date in only four months, because the little buggers breed so fast.
    3. I have no fear that a vaccine, whether current or outmoded, will harm me.
    4. I too live in a country with low CV infection and death rates. However, the official numbers don’t tie up. We’re running at about 30,000 excess deaths, according to some sources. It could be all the alcoholics and tobaccoholics dying of withdrawal symptoms. I wonder how reliable the Antipodean numbers are. To make the glorious leaders look good, there is an incentive to trim a nought or two off the actual numbers.

    1. “Bardon’s continued absence perturbs me”.

      Working assumption is he’s taken an absolute bath on all those individual stocks he was boasting about last year on here, has realised that being massively leveraged on multiple properties that only return a positive yield because of a salary offset tax gimme and is staring at the prospect of little to no paid work for the remainder of his “early retirement”.

      Probably not quite as chipper these days.

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