A tale of two citizens in a pandemic world

Updated: Jun 16

✦ To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

That, indeed, is the question as we slowly adjust to a new normal lifestyle that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about.

Countries are at differing stages of managing the pandemic and its disruption to society, but the one unifying factor is the importance of vaccination against the virus.

However, this is nowhere near as straight forward as it may initially appear and how exactly the vaccine debate is likely to impact us as a global population remains to be seen.

It is still early days but the general trend from governments around the world is an impatient desire to have their citizens vaccinated as quickly as possible so a semblance of normality can return. Put simply, if you are not vaccinated then there could be a whole host of challenges awaiting you.

This article does not seek to analyse the ethics of choice per se, of one’s right to opt for or against the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s another debate for an altogether different day. Instead it strives to peek behind the curtain being drawn by governments around the world who are introducing an increasing number of conditions and restrictions which are and will continue to shape the everyday lives of the vaccinated and unvaccinated members of our societies.

‘Us and them’

One thing that is clearly evident early on is that a divide has, and continues to be, created between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not. It is very much creating an “us and them” mentality which could, in time, become troublesome.

So what will the divisive world of the vaccinated and the non-vaccinated actually look like?

The answer is, simply, it is still too early to say with any degree of accuracy and one can only speculate at this stage. However, the early indication is that societies will become even more disrupted, divisive and controlled than before, perhaps worryingly so for some.

Being required to produce documentation in order to allow carry out duties and tasks that we previously took for granted such as to visit shops or restaurants, board a plane, visit another country, engage in certain leisure activities, visit loved ones or apply for a job sounds like something from a second-rate disaster movie from years gone by or from a hard-line communist state. But this is the very real future we are facing.

Vaccine Passports

We have already witnessed several countries around the world implementing subtle but very real restrictions to citizens who have not yet received their vaccination.

In the USA, it is compulsory for all federal government employees to sign confirmation forms proving they have been vaccinated, likewise for all military personnel.

Although the Biden government is against a "vaccine passport" at national level due to concerns over privacy and citizens' rights, several states such as New York and California have enforced that proof of inoculation be required from employees and customers of indoor eateries, gyms and entertainment centres, to cite just a few examples. More establishments, businesses and states are certain to follow.

Likewise, major organisations in the corporate sector have introduced mandatory rulings for their employees; Chevron, United Airlines and CVS Health recently announced they would require COVID-19 vaccinations for the majority of workers. Delta Air Lines stated that unvaccinated employees who have company-provided health insurance will face US$200 monthly surcharges starting from November. Tech giants Google and Facebook have hinted that workers will need to be fully vaccinated before returning to the workplace. Whether it becomes mandatory in Australia to be vaccinated in order to return to or start work remains to be seen.

In the UK, proof of vaccination will be required to enter places regarded as high-risk such as nightclubs and venues that house large crowds. At time of press this did not extend to sports venues but there have been murmurings that this could change in due course.

It has been the case in Belgium which introduced a policy that segregates spectators at football matches, with separate stands in place for those who are unvaccinated.

France has so far exhibited the most stringent approach whereby a vaccine passport must be produced in order for people to access sports venues and entertainment venues such as cinemas, nightclubs, museums and festivals. President Emmanuel Macron has intimated this will extend in time to restaurants and bars, and selected public transport.

Thailand and Singapore have been mulling over introducing vaccine passports of some description for some time now. The challenge seems to be less for the latter whose much smaller population are generally prudent and compliant when it comes to health and safety measures for the good of themselves and others. The latter has already initiated a process whereby the COVID status of an individual will be stored in an app which will be used in due course to permit and restrict certain activities which have, thus far, yet to be confirmed.

An easier life

Although Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that COVID-19 vaccination will not be made mandatory for citizens, it is more than clear that life would be a lot easier for those who opt to receive the jab than those who refuse and that harsher restrictions will be imposed on the latter.

“If you get vaccinated, there will be special rules that’ll apply to you,” Morrison said after announcing a four-phase plan recently.

“Why? Because if you’re vaccinated, you present less of a public health risk. You are less likely to get the virus. You are less likely to transmit it. You are less likely to get a serious illness and be hospitalised, and you are less likely to die.