People are see outside the Royal Exhibition Building Vaccination Centre in Melbourne, Australia, on Aug. 25, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
People are see outside the Royal Exhibition Building Vaccination Centre in Melbourne, Australia, on Aug. 25, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

When both the Queensland and Northern Territory governments decided to withdraw COVID-19 vaccine mandates in some settings in early April, their imposition was hailed a great success.

Indeed, infectious diseases physician Dr Paul Griffin said: “It doesn’t mean they weren’t the right thing to do at the time, I think it was very important to do at the time and very effective. What’s really clear is protection against infection is reduced by two doses against Omicron but largely restored with that third dose.”

Such statements appear to be an attempt to re-write history. Vaccine mandates, wherever they have been imposed, have proven to be, as Wesley J. Smith put it, exploding cigars.

In April last year, the British Medical Journal cautioned against vaccine mandates, arguing that more evidence about the long-term effectiveness of different types of vaccines and the duration of protection they confer was required, considering the emergence of new variants. It noted at the same time the ethical concerns about the societal divide that vaccine mandates or passports could cause, as did the World Health Organisation (WHO).

From the outset, it has been clear that persons who are unvaccinated do not present a greater risk of transmission of the virus. As far back as December 2020 the WHO’s chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan stated clearly: “I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on.”

Last November, the prestigious Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal reported that COVID-19 vaccines have a “minimal” impact on preventing transmission of the virus, which blows a hole in the argument that workers need to get vaccinated to protect those around them.

This was confirmed in a recent judicial review by the High Court of New Zealand, where Justice Francis Cooke struck down the police and defence force vaccine mandates as not being demonstrably justified. Justice Cooke considered expert evidence given by Professor Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University in South Australia concerning the effectiveness of vaccination in reducing transmission of the Omicron variant.

Cooke concluded that, although the omicron variant poses a threat to the continuity of workforces, this was the case “for the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated.” New Zealand has since removed most vaccine mandates.

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Protesters rally against COVID-19-related restrictions and vaccine mandates in Wellington, New Zealand, on Nov. 9, 2021. (Praveen Menon/Reuters)

Dr Clive Dix, the former chairman of the United Kingdom’s vaccine taskforce has said that COVID should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu and that the time has come to end mass-vaccination, given a high percentage of the population, and importantly the most vulnerable, have received their vaccinations.

In the UK, vaccine mandates were only ever imposed in limited settings and withdrawn in the health sector due to threats of a staff exodus. Professor Andrew Pollard, who helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, stated on BBC Radio 4 in January that “it really is not affordable, sustainable or probably even needed to vaccinate everyone on the planet every four to six months.” He added that “in the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”

Further, history has shown us that it is societally counter-productive to demonise or discriminate against people exercising their free will.

Several infectious diseases experts have stated the same thing.

Immunisation policy expert, WHO adviser, and professor at the University of Sydney, Julie Leask, has argued that we will not eliminate risk by locking out the unvaccinated from everyday life.

“To make the requirement ongoing is not proportionate to the harm it brings; for people’s travel and their everyday life. It can create these radicalisation effects, we see that in history,” Leask said. “When you bring in hard mandates with severe consequences, some will dig in further, become more alienated, less trusting, and less willing to comply with other things. It can actually give vaccination and primary healthcare a bad name.”

Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne, Nathan Grills, has argued that there is a diminishing marginal return of vaccine mandates. Those who are not vaccinated may well be unlikely to change their minds, however, our society and economy cannot afford to lose or marginalise 5 to 7 percent of the population simply because of their beliefs.

While he does not agree with their beliefs, Grills stated that such people are upstanding citizens and hard-working people of integrity and questioned if we really wanted to live in a society that determines long-term societal participation on one’s beliefs, especially and even more so with Omicron, whether vaccinated or not, where there remains the risk of a spread?

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People walk along Hobart mall in Hobart, Australia, on Oct. 16, 2021. (Steve Bell/Getty Images)

The exploding cigar effect of vaccine mandates is now being seen in worker shortages. Nurses in New South Wales went on strike in February due to staffing issues caused not only by isolation requirements but by vaccine mandates. The standing down of ambulance officers who did not want to be vaccinated has led to triple-0 calls being unanswered.

Former Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth has said vaccine mandates should be withdrawn immediately to deal with teacher shortages in schools. Further, even people with legitimate medical reasonsagainst being vaccinated have been forced to leave jobs they love.

Maybe these are some of the reasons why ATAGI, Australia’s immunisation advisory group, never recommended vaccine mandates in the first place.

In a democracy, individuals have the right to make their own choices after considering every viewpoint. To this end, the government’s role is to persuade, not to coerce.

That this country, which prides itself on the “fair go,” compelled vaccination for unwilling citizens for a virus that is of limited severity will, when examined in the future, be seen as extremely authoritarian and as a dark episode in its history.

In the words of the 19th century English classical liberal philosopher and parliamentarian, John Stuart Mill:

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

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