People in Italy are coming together in the main squares of cities such as Turin and Bologna to protest, after the government has made travelling and most public activities only possible if in possession of a Green Pass (an official document showing that a person is fully vaccinated).
A woman in Turin is asked: “Do you consider yourself a ‘No Vax’?” – “No,” is her reply, “I am a ‘Free Vax’, I want freedom of choice.” No matter the label that is given them, those who are now protesting against the government’s choices are citizens who do not yet trust the COVID vaccines that are out there, and who strongly feel that their right to choose freely is being taken away from them. Are they right? Are they damaging or helping their community by protesting? Should they – and should we all indeed –, being in a time of pandemic, be forced to get vaccinated as soon as possible?
Casting our memory back about a year and a half, when we were hoping, indeed praying, for a vaccine to be produced so that we may have ended this time of unhappiness, it is somewhat funny to realize that now we have the vaccine and we do not want to take it. Not all of us, of course; yet, there are many out there who are still distrustful. Their main belief is that, having been completed so soon, the vaccine is still an experimentation.
To that, doctors and researchers reply that the immediate availability of resources made it possible to dramatically reduce the usual amount of time required for funding and bureaucracy. Nothing, however, was taken from the experimentation phase. This is a crucial aspect, doctors point out, as experimenting properly and making sure that the vaccines are safe is the absolute priority, and no vaccine is ever released prior to the completion of these stages – which goes to show the importance of such regulatory agents as the North-American FDA and its European counterpart EMA, in approving the final product.
That people are tired of restrictions is no news at all to any of us. But to the agenda of all the lockdown protests that took place around the world earlier this year, another point is being added: the new politics of vaccination. Analogously to what has happened in Italy, France has just recently seen its people invading the streets of Paris “to demonstrate against the Pass Sanitaire and mandatory vaccination for certain professions.” Cyprus, the United Kingdom and Australia were likewise affected. The Far-East, on the other hand, seems to feel the opposite way, as protests arose last week when Tokyo inhabitants demanded their security be placed above the Olympic Games. Excepting the very sensible Japanese people, the message that citizens around the world are sending to their governments seems to be a unanimous one: no more lockdowns, and no compulsory “vaccination passports”.
One wonders, however, how the two points may go side by side – especially in the times we are living. During the above-mentioned protests several people were arrested, and governments criticized the lack of responsibility of the all-squashed-together, maskless crowds. Yet the point that is being made represents a fine, thin line between what people may and should be asked to do. One could even argue that there is a whole publicity of information – such as the constant hammering of news about new COVID cases – that is now intended to convince, or rather push, people into getting vaccinated immediately. That, however, would be a whole new argument altogether. What interest us here is why governments are enforcing vaccination as a requirement to move around and to be in public, and whether this is right or wrong, a necessary choice or a violation of human rights.
There are some – apart from those in power – among us who do not approve of the protests, and others who are just numbed by them and do not yet know how to respond. Actor Matt Damon seems to belong with the former category. In his view, the times require that we act and think collectively, and we seem to be doing just the opposite. “I have a couple of friends,” he stated, “who are immunocompromised, and they can’t get the vaccine, so they have no choice but to rely on the rest of us to do our part to get to herd immunity. So I look at it that way.”
That is a very good point worth making. What of those who are in such a situation? There are actually people who would like to get the vaccine but cannot do so because of their medical condition: these people, surely, do not feel safe at all right now. So how do all the rest of us compare to them, and what becomes our role in light of this?
Thinking collectively, as a community, is definitely the best way to get to herd immunity as fast as possible. The very concept of herd immunity contains the idea of moving together towards one and the same direction. It is true and right, however, that a freedom of choice should still be allowed. And we do still have a freedom of choice right now, when it comes to getting vaccinated. What is perhaps not being taken into account by protesters is the very extraordinary nature of a time of pandemic. In a normal situation, it would have been perfectly unacceptable to have had to live by these impositions; yet we are very far from standard times at present. Choosing whether or not to get the vaccine is one thing, but one cannot be so bold as to expect freedom of movement and of action, that is to say total, unprotected freedom, in a time like this.
Those who work in the health sector were practically forced to take the vaccine from day one. If anyone, they should have been the ones to protest. Yet they surely understand their role and all the responsibilities that come with it. They also, very possibly, understand and trust science better than the rest of us. For mistrusting the vaccine does not only imply, sometimes, a lack of knowledge and information; it also shows a lack of respect towards the scientists who are struggling for us; a lack of respect towards anyone who is investing anything into this desperate, innovative research – in spite of all that may be argued about pharmaceutical companies profiting from a situation like this.
At one time or another, we all become guinea-pigs for the future. It cannot be helped, and it is only natural. This is our time, and we are responding. No one should be forced to choose what to do when it comes to their own health. The fact that our safety is in our hands is perhaps the fairest of the factors. It is therefore only just that, while some will feel safer having been vaccinated, others won’t. It is also fair that some, having taken necessary precautions towards their own safety, may think beyond themselves and take on the responsibility to help and safeguard their fellow human beings: for this has always been the better nature of our race, and it is the quality that will most probably get us to the other side, time and time again.
Written by Edoardo Cippitelli
Edoardo Cippitelli is a columnist at DecipherGrey.