Editorial: Jab allergy
The call of ‘resistance’ in Europe once embodied people’s movements that sprang up — often underground — to challenge Nazi rule during World War II. Last weekend, that chant took on a new meaning as 40,000 Austrians marched on the streets of Vienna, protesting against the reimposition of strict Covid-19 restrictions. Similar agitations have erupted in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Northern Ireland. As winter approaches, these countries and others across Europe are witnessing a sharp spike in coronavirus infections among the unvaccinated. Austria, for instance, has been recording more than 10,000 daily cases from early November — the highest since the start of the pandemic. Faced with this crisis, countries are imposing tough new regulations against moving in public without being vaccinated. Multiple Italian towns have introduced strict night curfews, while the country’s government has expanded the list of jobs where vaccination is mandatory. Austria has become the first European country to make vaccination compulsory — from February. Yet, while these efforts are aimed at curbing Covid-19 cases, they have also sparked a fresh wave of anti-vaccine movements across the region.
These agitations against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates are not entirely spontaneous eruptions of anger. In Austria, far-right groups, such as the Freedom Party and Identitarians, have been prominent in the recent protests. In Belgium, members of parliament from the ultra-conservative Vlaams Belang party have joined anti-vaccine protests. Fringe groups and smaller parties are not the only outfits that have given the anti-vaccine movement its momentum. In the United States of America, mainstream Republicans have steadfastly opposed vaccine mandates. At the heart of this tussle is the tension between public health and individual freedoms. Governments and public health experts have argued since the beginning of the pandemic that masks, vaccines and restrictions on movement are vital tools to control the spread of Covid-19. Critics have alleged that rules limiting their movement, forcing them to wear masks or requiring them to take vaccines represent a violation of their freedom of choice. While democracies must remain wary of government overreach in general, there is a decisive difference between the two sides in this debate: science. There is ample evidence that vaccines work effectively, with very infrequent side effects. It is also established that unvaccinated people pose a greater danger to others, as carriers, than those who have taken the shot. When one person’s ‘freedom’ adversely impacts the health of others, individual rights must stand second to collective good.