So there’s a new study in a prestigious medical journal that shows people who don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine aren’t just putting their own health at risk. They also contribute disproportionately to the risk of infection for those who get vaccinated.
With that out of the way, we now look forward to the study that shows the water is wet. And the one that shows heavy objects tend to fall to the ground if you drop them.
The conclusion, in other words, is glaringly obvious to the point of being axiomatic. People who are not vaccinated are more likely to contract the virus and are therefore more likely than the general population to transmit it to others, including those who have been vaccinated.
We say this so as not to overlook the importance of study. On the contrary. This helps put scientific rigor around an observation that aligns with simple common sense. Especially since when it comes to vaccines and COVID-19, common sense is ultimately not always so common.
The study, by a team from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, has implications that go straight to the heart of the debate over personal responsibility versus liability. collective during a pandemic.
It provides numbers to support the idea – again, a sensible enough idea, but one that eludes a significant minority of people – that vaccination is not just a personal decision that should be left entirely to individuals.
The decision to be vaxxed or not has implications for everyone around you. As a result, as the authors put it, “although the decision not to get vaccinated is often framed in terms of the rights of individuals to opt out, such arguments overlook the potential harms to the wider community that arise from poor vaccination coverage”.
Again, this was clear before this study saw the light of day. This was clear last year when the idea of mandating vaccination for certain purposes (such as access to crowded public spaces) was still hotly debated.
Eventually governments came to terms with the idea of vaccination mandates. They have mostly been abandoned now that vaccines are available to anyone who wants them, and the Omicron variant has changed the nature of COVID-19 (more contagious, but generally less severe).
But the study lends weight to the principled argument for vaccination mandates – at the right time and in proportion to the public health threat posed by a disease at any given time.
COVID is certainly not over, and there is always the possibility of new variants that may justify the return of restrictions. At the same time, another infectious disease may arise, requiring a collective response to an entirely new threat.
But we know full well that opposition to mandates and public health restrictions is strong, and may well grow stronger now that the immediate danger of COVID has subsided.
This opposition was most vocal during the truck-convoy protests, and it lives on in the campaign for the Conservative leadership of Pierre Poilievre, who rallied support under the slogan of “freedom” from government restrictions of all kinds.
Given all of this, Dalla Lana’s study is a timely reminder that “freedom” cuts in many ways. Above all, it shows that the freedom exercised by some not to take collective responsibility for vaccination endangers the freedom of many others to live in good health. In some cases, tragically, to live at all.