The sense in mandatory vaccination

OVER the past few months, the question of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination or limitations on those who choose not to be vaccinated has become a hot topic whose centrality is premised on balancing public health priorities with ethical and legal considerations.

Paradoxically, throughout the pandemic, the voices of those clamouring for individual rights and civil liberties have rang loudly and abrasively, constantly attempting to crowd out calls for the common good and public interest, attempting to overpower calls for herd immunity via Covid-19 vaccines.

Without doubt, successful vaccination programmes could play a critical role in establishing relative normality and the enjoyment of civil liberties. There could be a safe return to normal life and a gradual re-opening of the economy in key sectors such as food, retail, entertainment and travel, and especially with regard to import and export.

Moreover, broader society could benefit if vaccinated individuals are allowed to return to their work and care obligations. However, vaccine hesitancy, as a result of reasons including distrust in government, politicisation of the process, the slowness in getting the vaccination rollout off the ground, reinfections despite being vaccinated and dismal communication strategies to the public, have played a substantive role in decreased uptake and eroded vaccine confidence even where initially present.

This is why calls for mandatory vaccination have grown with the business community mooting to go the mandatory way and further pushing Namibia towards what seems to be the path being cautiously taken by other countries.

Indeed, and has being argued by those against mandatory vaccination, improving health literacy is a critical prerequisite to enhance vaccine acceptance. It must be accelerated and expanded rapidly to reach all communities. However, there is no luxury of time during a public health emergency to engage in prolonged community education efforts. In parallel with counselling and vaccine literacy efforts, mandatory vaccination could be an acceptable idea if approached in a phased and considerate manner.

Ethically, vaccine mandates are justifiable on multiple levels, based on the common good and a public health ethics framework. This framework, which has been outlined by researchers, is based on the principles of solidarity, effectiveness, efficiency, proportionality and transparency. It intends to achieve three things in a public health emergency. Firstly, to save lives, secondly, to use limited resources efficiently and finally, to create social cohesion in the public interest.

What is becoming clearer is that as the debates grow and the voices get louder, it is no longer a matter of whether vaccine mandates will be introduced in Namibia, but when. Justice minister Yvonne Dausab in an exclusive interview with this publication recently alluded to the fact that Namibia’s constitution and several pieces of legislation provide for this, in certain circumstances and with several factors taken into account.

What is needed is a balance between individual rights and the public good. As Namibians, we value the rights accorded to us in the constitution. We should in parallel take heed of their limitations, in particular in the context of furthering the public good as in the current contagion.