✦ 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.
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.
“We’d have to have more restrictions on people who are unvaccinated because they’re a danger to themselves and others,” he added.
Australia has only very recently emerged from the throes of an extensive nationwide lockdown and thus remains in a somewhat vulnerable state. Another spike in cases could well see a return to that as the government strives to achieve its goal of 70% of the population being vaccinated in order to create a herd immunity level.
This scenario may still be some time off, with Morrison himself stating he is unsure whether the country would be ready and able to reopen fully by the end of the year. But once it does, expect daily life to be different to what we have previously been accustomed to and the divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated to be glaringly apparent.
Vaccination is inevitable
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on August 24 that proof of vaccination is inevitable and that unvaccinated residents should prepare for a world where they are unable to enjoy post-lockdown freedoms that will be afforded to their vaccinated counterparts.
“There is no doubt that in the future, as (chief health officer) Dr (Kerry) Chant said, we can assume that many private organisations for a long period say you can only come to my premise or fly on my plane or do X, Y and Z if you have the vaccine,” she said.
“NSW has developed technology to allow us to check in and show our vaccine in one go. My message to everyone is that if you want to get back to normal, get your vaccine. If you want to do things, vaccination will be key as part of that process.”
Ms Berejiklian added that she and Dr Chant are currently discussing what freedoms fully vaccinated NSW residents will be able to enjoy as restrictions are hopefully eased in time.
The Tasmanian, Victorian and the Northern Territory governments are also collaborating on ideas for how vaccinated people could be exempt from any existing COVID-related restrictions, and will present their suggestions to the National Cabinet soon.
The early signs do support Ms Berejiklian’s statement that proof of vaccination will be compulsory in order to undertake many of the activities we all previously took for granted. Visiting bars, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues, be they under the condition of lockdown or not, will be one of the main areas of focus.
Businesses operating in these industries are, naturally, keen to avoid lockdowns, said Innes Willox from the Australian Industry Group - and if that meant only being able to service vaccinated customers, then so be it.
“Obviously, vaccination is going to be a key part of that strategy,” Willox said. “And then, how we treat differently those that have been vaccinated or not vaccinated, that’s the next step in the equation.”
Venues NSW, which manage major sporting venues in Sydney such as the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney Football Stadium, Olympic Park and other stadiums, has suggested anyone going to events such as rugby league fixtures next season will be required to provide proof of vaccination.
Freedom of movement
Starting to see a trend developing? It seems that if you want to get back to the lifestyle you’ve always known and enjoyed then you need to have received the jab.
There’s more though. Obtaining proof of vaccination could also extend to greater freedom of movement and exemption from state border closures or lockdowns.
In fact, travel will be one of the most obvious, and arguably justifiable, areas where being vaccinated will be an absolute prerequisite. Migration of people, after all, is how the virus spread from its origins in Wuhan, China to pretty much every corner of the globe.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said back in March that he believed “governments are going to insist” on proof of vaccine for international travellers. Since then the airline has made it mandatory for all of its 22,000 workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
COVID passports are inevitable and will pretty much become an extension of our traditional passports, typically accessible via an app on your phone although also still in paper form, if necessary.
A "vaccine passport" is being introduced across all 27 member nations of the European Union (EU), plus Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein in order to permit travel. Canada recently launched a “proof of vaccination passport” and the UK has its own version which ties back to the National Health Service (NHS) and shows proof of inoculation. Whereas Thailand is closed to foreigners currently, the island of Phuket is exempt as long as visitors can provide proof of a viable vaccine and that they are COVID-free.
Australia's tourism minister Dan Tehan has said that permitting more freedoms to people who are vaccinated would encourage more to get the jab.
“Obviously, there’s a very good incentive - you don’t want to get sick,” he said.
“But as another further incentive, enabling people to be able to move freely, initially, within our own country - and then potentially once we open up, to be able to move more freely overseas - I think is another very good incentive as to why Australians should want to get vaccinated.”
When we get to that point, vaccinated people arriving from abroad would almost certainly not be required to undergo any form of quarantine. Those who have not received the jab would still be confined to a hotel room or designated quarantine space, however.
One major area that has been affected over the past 18 months is children’s education with a huge switch to home schooling in many countries during lockdowns and school closures. This creates a natural burden on both parents and children and can amount to a very overwhelming and challenging experience.
The packages are put together by the educators for families to use and do during the week meaning that, even when the children are not physically at TG's, they continue to engage. Topics cover science experiences, mindfulness practices, cooking experiences, story times, and music and movement and provide invaluable support at a most testing time.
What, if any, requirements vaccination wise will be detailed in order to return to the classroom again remains to be seen. Australia recently announced children aged between 12 and 15 will be included in the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout but gave no indication to those below that age.
This is the age group that has been established in the USA, Canada and France while the UK has take a slightly more cautious approach and said it will only vaccinate children in that age range that are considered vulnerable. France also confirmed that only unvaccinated children will be sent home if a classmate tests positive to COVID-19, serving as an incentive of sorts for parents to ensure their children are vaccinated.
Being behind the curve in respects to the progression and impact of COVID, Australia will no doubt continue to watch these others countries then set their stall out based on the respective successes and failures.
One area that has not yet been discussed is the “no jab, no pay” childcare policy where a COVID-19 jab will become mandatory for children in the same manner other vaccinations are in order for families to qualify for the Family Tax Benefit scheme or child care fee assistance.
When all is said and done, what future do we envisage once the dust from the COVID maelstrom has settled, if it ever does fully, and how will life differ for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated?
As alluded to at the outset, it is too soon to speculate fully and the various implications are so complex and messy, much in the same way the pandemic has left our daily lives and routines.
There is clearly ground for concern, even at this early stage. Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy has aired concerns about creating “two classes of Australians” and a society of exclusion.
“Where I have expressed concern around restrictions for unvaccinated people is regarding the small percentage of the population who are medically unable to get the vaccine,” she said.
“I would not want to see vulnerable Australians excluded from society. If people do have genuine, religious or cultural reasons for not being vaccinated, then they shouldn’t be restricted as a result of that,” she said.
“As long as they can show that they’ve been tested and they are free of COVID-19. Because that’s the other answer to it… either you’ve been vaccinated, or you can prove that you’ve been tested and you’re COVID negative.”
Liberal senator Eric Abetz agrees. “Vaccine passports should not be a blunt instrument to force people to be vaccinated by locking them out of society,” he said.
“Denied or limited access to government and private business goods and services should not be based on one’s medical status, and the idea of a domestic ‘vaccine passport’ is a dangerous one that can create a class of citizens.”
Political bias aside, one cannot help but shudder at the irony that countries across the world are being forced into adopting population control measures and strict policies on freedom of choice and movement much in the same way as the country where this pandemic started and was allowed to spread.
Ultimately, we cannot see into the future so only time will tell what transpires and what a “New Normal” will entail exactly. The early signs certainly suggest that being vaccinated is a far better choice than not and should mean that our lives and societal constitution can carry on without any huge changes.
For now we sit and wait to see how our tomorrow pans out...
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