Recent polls suggest most Australians support vaccine passports. History is however littered with examples of a temporary popular opinion being dead wrong.
Our great grandparents lived in a world where smallpox outbreaks occurred in Australia. If we had a smallpox-like outbreak in 2021 with 30% of infections resulting in a fatality (and with younger people overly represented) there'd be little need for a debate about the worth of a vaccine passport – if the government didn't mandate one, the people rightly would.
At the other end of the spectrum is regular flu. It's forgotten now but 2017 and 2019 were relatively bad flu seasons in Australia and there was zero discussion around the need for a flu vaccine passport. If we had introduced a flu vaccine passport then yes there would have been a small reduction in flu fatalities but that's also true if we banned motor vehicles. Both are absurd suggestions because it would have been self-evident that the collateral economic and societal damage was too high a price.
The question facing Australia today is this: if a smallpox-like virus would justify a vaccine passport but a bad flu season does not, then what rate of fatalities justifies their introduction in a liberal society and suspension of our hard-earned liberties? That is not a question for health bureaucrats – it's a question to be answered by political leaders in consultation with a range of experts.
COVID is worse than regular flu but it's also true that COVID is far closer to regular flu than smallpox. Here are the cold hard undisputed facts. The average lifespan of an Australian is 82.6 years. The average age of COVID fatalities in Australia is 85. Since the pandemic began the COVID fatality rate for Australians under the age of 50 is four in 12,000. 66% of COVID deaths have been in nursing homes. 73% of COVID deaths had pre-existing chronic health conditions and a higher number had non-chronic but somewhat serious health complications.
The case is closed – COVID is more comparable to influenza and nothing like smallpox. If we had had no lockdowns then our overall fatalities would have risen but these statistical ratios would have held. COVID is serious but these facts do not justify societal upheaval. They do not justify a Jim Crow-style COVID-segregation and that is precisely what a COVID vaccine passport will do for many.
There is so much conflicting COVID data flying around it's hard to be certain, but an international consensus has emerged – the vaccinated are largely protected from hospitalisation and death but they still catch and transmit COVID. There is debate as to whether the infectious are equally as likely to transmit COVID but the mere fact there is a debate on that point means it would be wrong to marginalise millions of our citizens on uncertain data.
Before we rush headlong into a two-tiered society, with perhaps one in five Australians condemned to perpetual lockdown & excluded from many aspects of life, let's pause and think through the practicalities.
Workplaces will be torn apart – many of those who would prefer not to have a COVID vaccines will either be forced to resign or undertake a medical procedure in which they are only doing so because their livelihood depends on it. That is going to inevitably create tension between employees and employers and between fellow employees. Same can be said for churches, sporting groups, social groups and on it goes.
What about kids birthday parties? When parents send an invite, are they going to have to stipulate that only the vaccinated can attend? Will the host demand to see the vaccinated status of parents as they enter the party? It would convert a happy innocent event into one with tension.
There will be millions of vaccinated Australians who are typically citizens of goodwill who, if vaccine passports are mandated, will continue to have an overly alarmist view of the COVID threat. Those people will falsely, but in a real way, consider many they know to be unclean and dangerous. That will be a very ugly Australia, and reprehensible for our leaders to legislate that outcome.
Over the weekend Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed down from implementing COVID vaccine passports in the United Kingdom. Johnson has been disappointing in many ways but this was a relief. The credit belongs to Tory backbenchers who in significant numbers voiced their concerns about legislating a two-tier society and the marginalisation of millions. The fact that so few backbenchers in the Australian parliaments have taken a similar stand is nothing but shameful.
We do however want to pay credit to the Chief Minister of the ACT, Labor's Andrew Barr who told the Australian Financial Review last week he is opposed to vaccine passports due to 'privacy, the potential for fraud, legal liability and even exposure to a human rights challenge.'
Judging from the recent comments of our woeful state and federal leaders it appears vaccine passports are coming at us like a freight train. At some point they will inevitably be discarded but how much damage will be done between now and then?
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