Over recent months, there has been a clear and increasing division between sectors of the Australian population who are either pro or anti the COVID-19 vaccination.
But what’s an even more divisive topic is the question around vaccine mandates: the requirement to get the jab to do certain things.
One only has to scroll through the various social media sites to understand that a large portion of the population feel that being required to get the vaccination is a breach of civil liberties, and this assertion is held by many provaxxers, who’ve been double jabbed.
But over in the States, a rather unexpected organisation has come out championing COVID vaccine mandates, and that’s the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In a 2 September opinion piece in the New York Times, the ACLU posits that “far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties”.
According to the piece, this is because they protect the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities or compromised immune systems, as well as children too young to be inoculated.
Vaccine mandates also protect frontline workers, such as nurses, bus drivers and supermarket assistants.
Another point the ACLU puts forward is that the requirement to get the jab can actually lead to the restoration of “most basic liberties” that have been taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lockdowns and restrictions.
The right to health
ACLU national legal director David Cole and its director of freedom of religion and belief Daniel Mach assert that requiring vaccination for a disease depends on three things: that it’s highly transmissible, it’s “serious and often lethal” and that vaccines are safe and there’s no alternative to protecting public health.
The pair add that in the case of COVID-19, all these boxes are ticked. And they then go on to address common civil liberties arguments being put forth against vaccine mandates.
The first point being that the requirement to get the jab infringements upon autonomy and bodily integrity. To this, the ACLU counters that these rights are not absolute, and they don’t include “the right to inflict harm on others”.
The writers further point to many US institutions already requiring vaccinations for “highly infectious and devastating diseases” – including mumps and measles – and these stipulations aren’t causing civil liberties issues at present.
What have been problems right now are the more than 600,000 COVID deaths that have transpired in the US. And further deaths are a particular burden for people with intellectual and physical disabilities, as well as the increasing numbers of children being hospitalised in the country’s south.
And due to the fact that many Americans have chosen not to be inoculated, the authors continue, these unvaccinated people are posing a risk to others, which means mandates in certain settings – such as schools and hospitals – are necessary.
There are exceptions
The fact that an organisation like the ACLU has come out firmly in favour of vaccine mandates has raised more than a few eyebrows, including some civil liberties advocates who’d been calling on it to make a statement in opposition to requirements to inoculate.
Indeed, back in 2009, the ACLU came out staunchly against local proposals to mandate vaccines during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
In the current COVID crisis setting, Cole and Mach state that there must be exceptions to the vaccine mandate rule, specifically for those people who are not medically able to undergo the treatment.
However, they draw the line at those claiming an exemption on religious grounds.
The pair add that there has been some vaccine hesitancy amongst communities of colour in the US, and this is because of a long history of discriminatory treatment. So, they assert public health officials should counter this with concrete advice.
Cole and Mach also underscore that they are in no way advocating for the forcible injection of people or criminal punishments for those that don’t comply, rather accommodating measures should be taken such as permitting people to work from home.
“We care deeply about civil liberties and civil rights for all — which is precisely why we support vaccine mandates,” the ACLU position statement ends.