The other day a friend described herself as an anti-anti-vaxxer. She won’t allow anyone in her home who hasn’t had the jab. She wasn’t saying it to shock or curry favor, it was merely a matter-of-fact statement by someone who is pro-vaccination and wants to keep her family safe.
A bold stance, perhaps some might say even brave, but it’s not just the preserve of the anti-vaxxers to pin their colors to the mast.
A couple of years ago, before the pandemic took hold, an individual’s choice not to vaccinate by and large didn’t affect anyone else, apart from their immediate family and perhaps the odd friend or two.
Today, however, the situation is very different.
Those who choose not to vaccinate themselves and their children are making a choice that affects not just them, but society as a whole. Sadly, however, those who speak out against anti-vaxxers are often the subject of ridicule and derision, as it is now a widely-held belief that we must respect the choices of people even when those choices are diametrically opposed to our own and damaging to others.
The most effective way out of the pandemic is through vaccination. Science supports this and so governments across the globe have implemented vaccination programs, which have been hugely successful insofar as they have been executed.
Sadly, however, many have rejected the findings and advice of medical experts, immunologists, virologists, and so on, preferring instead to rely on the findings of their own Internet research in a bid to discover the truth. And the rest of us are suffering as a result.
For example, this morning my daughter had to make do with classes on Zoom once again, following a school trip last week after which an unvaccinated child tested positive for COVID-19.
Instead of enjoying a few carefree days traveling together around Israel, the trip turned into a nightmare for the children and teachers alike once the discovery had been made. The class WhatsApp group became a frenzied hub of Covid-19 related questions, as all of the children underwent testing and parents eagerly awaited the results. Some parents decided to collect their children early and bring them home, despite the fact that a decision was taken for classes to continue, albeit with heightened COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Since their return, many more children have tested positive, forcing them into isolation and putting others at risk.
In Israel, many of those who remain unvaccinated lament their loss of freedom and the restrictions placed upon them by the Green Pass system, which limits entry to some shops, bars and other public places to those who are either fully-vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.
As well, the army has been forced to implement new rules, such as regular testing for unvaccinated soldiers, in order to keep everyone safe and, crucially, the wheels of the IDF turning.
It’s not just Israel where restrictions have been put in place for those who choose not to have the jab. For example, entry into Australia has been heavily restricted since the start of the pandemic, as Serbian professional tennis player Novak Djokovic recently found out.
His plight has dominated headlines across the globe for days. In short, his visa was revoked following a row over whether he was exempt from needing a COVID-19 vaccine. Thereafter, he was forced to remain in a hotel while his appeal against the decision to deport him rumbled on. Although the court eventually ruled in his favor, meaning he could leave the hotel, stay in the country and play in the tournament, the issue is far from over and he could yet be deported.
As the world watches this sorry saga unfold, one thing is clear: The freedom to choose not to vaccinate comes at a very heavy cost, not just to the individual, but to society at large. It’s frustrating for those who have studiously followed the rules and taken every opportunity to get vaccinated as soon as possible to watch helplessly as the choices of others threaten to stymie our global recovery.
While so many remain unvaccinated, the virus will continue to spread at an alarming rate, new variants will flourish and COVID-19 wards will struggle to cope with the rising number of patients, most of whom, ironically, will be unvaccinated.
Although everyone, from the number one tennis player in the world to the children on my daughter’s trip, should have the right to refuse vaccination, those who choose to exercise that right, which flies in the face of societal norms, should no longer expect to automatically enjoy the benefits of society.
Accordingly, Djokovic and others like him should not expect to travel freely and participate in tournaments. Similarly, unvaccinated school children should not expect to be welcome on school trips. The list goes on.
As the pandemic enters its third year, the message is clear: vaccinate or live with the consequences.
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.