Why would people refuse to be vaccinated against Covid? And can they be forced?
If you watch this video, you’ll get an answer to the second question: https://www.facebook.com/100000641866571/posts/4056214877743201/?sfnsn=scwspwa (As a side benefit, you can appreciate the living conditions in provincial Russia, but that isn’t what concerns me here.)
The clip shows AK-toting Russian special forces pinning resisters down and slamming needles into their upper arms. One of the anti-vaxxers is a police lieutenant-colonel (equivalent to our Chief Inspector), so obviously drunk on the job that he can’t even enunciate his protests intelligibly.
Transposing this scenario to a more civilised setting, our government is unlikely to vaccinate protesters at gunpoint. A hefty fine is probably as far as we can go.
Yet it’s logical that no one should be allowed to shirk his civic duty. After all, vaccination is designed to produce herd immunity. Hence, the more of the human livestock refuse or neglect to be vaccinated, the less effective the programme. The logical conclusion is that we owe compliance not just to ourselves but to society at large.
The first question is more interesting. Why would anyone refuse?
The incidence of side effects is trivial and, when they do occur, they are mild. Three people have been reported to die as a result of vaccination, but related to the tens of millions safely vaccinated people, the risk is negligible. It’s more dangerous to cross the street, even in a quiet part of town.
Medical opinion, supported by a large body of clinical research, is unequivocal on the subject of efficacy. This may vary in its degree, which normally falls in the range of 85 to 99 per cent. But in any case it’s worth having, especially if one considers the Covid mortality rate. It’s not very pleasant mortality either: patients slowly suffocate.
Even those who survive suffer serious damage to their lungs and often brain. One would think that even a measly 85 per cent reduction in the chances of such outcomes is desirable. Potential gains outweigh potential losses so heavily that Pascal’s Wager ought to guide anyone’s decision.
This would be reasonable if logic were brought to bear on the decision. But it isn’t. For every argument in favour of vaccination is based on expert opinion, and these days it carries little weight.
This isn’t because doctors and medical scientists know less than their counterparts did 100 years ago. Quite the opposite: our contemporary medics are infinitely better qualified and equipped to face up to life’s pitfalls.
It’s just that more and more people refuse to accept authority of any kind, and rejecting expert opinion is a glaring example of such obtuseness. The chickens first espied by Plato and Aristotle are coming home to roost.
The two sage Greeks lived at a time of inchoate and highly limited democracy. Only 30,000 or so fully enfranchised Athenians (out of the population of about a quarter of a million at its peak) could vote, with 5,000-6,000 constituting a quorum.
Yet the philosophers anticipated the downside of democracy with nothing short of clairvoyance. If people are equal in one, political, respect, warned Plato and Aristotle, they’ll eventually assume they are equal in every respect – including matters of intellect, aesthetics and specialised knowledge.
In practical terms, this means not only that everyone feels entitled to voice his opinion on any matter in Creation (including Creation itself), but also that everyone is sure that his opinion is as good as anyone else’s – regardless of the relative levels of expertise.
Thus a 20-year-old student discussing a scientific hypothesis with his Nobel-winning professor is perfectly capable of saying: “Well, your guess is as good as mine.” A youngster who has never heard of Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights will lecture a political scientist on the relative benefits of proportional representation and first-past-the-post. And, more to the point, medically illiterate people will insist that they are right and doctors with 30 years’ experience of studying and practising medicine are wrong.
This isn’t to say that doctors are always right. Anyone, whatever his expertise, may make a mistake. However, a doctor’s chances of making one are exponentially lower than a layman’s – even one who has taken the trouble to Google his condition for 10 minutes.
To be fair, doctors contribute to fostering this presumption of equality. These days, they are instructed to give the patient a free choice of anything, from surgery to therapy.
Now, at the risk of sounding immodest, my knowledge of medicine is probably better than average. However, whenever doctors follow their protocols and ask me to choose which procedure I’d prefer, I always tell them I’m not qualified to make such choices. Once I’m satisfied that the doctor is competent (and ideally Anglophone), I trust him to decide what’s best for me.
But then I’m not an egalitarian. I readily accept the existence of social, professional and any other hierarchies in which my place is nowhere near the top. In some, I don’t belong at all.
However, such a worldview is strictly anachronistic. Steering today’s discourse are ignorant and arrogant upstarts whose guess is as good as anyone else’s. In America, this species dominates the human fauna, but it’s in the ascendant everywhere, even among the traditionally more diffident Britons.
I’m not suggesting that political democracy is the root of all evil. What’s important isn’t method of governance, but the kind of society it brings forth. Every method, including democracy, has pluses and minuses, and success hinges on accentuating the former and downplaying the latter.
The desirability of imposing limitations on political democracy is an interesting but separate subject. What’s essential is that the mentality created by political democracy be contained within that sphere and not allowed to spill over into every walk of life.
That’s why the wider the democracy, the more vital its need for a highly educated population. Any mass deficit in learning prevents people from exercising their sovereignty responsibly and effectively. And extending imperious incompetence to areas of specialised expertise is deadly.
When it comes to vaccination, such cocksure, proud ignorance may prove deadly literally, not just figuratively. Still, I wouldn’t threaten ant-vaxxers with guns.