Vaccinations are the pinnacle of human reason. They are developed under clinical conditions by scientists who only care about what works. They represent the supremacy of rationality over chaos and can save lives. In theory, vaccine passports should not be more than a rubber stamp of reason. Why is the policy and the debate surrounding it so absurd?
Boris Johnson announced in late July that he would make complete vaccination a condition for entry to nightclubs. The prime minister did not have the experience of Boardmasters in mid-August which sowed so many Covid infections that if it had been from abroad, the county would have been put on the red list. He did however have the data by the end of this week and he reiterated his intention.
He knew that the Covid passport requirement was not crucial in spreading infection. Festival organizers had already implemented a Covid status check. Every ticket holder over 11 years old must show either a negative test result or proof of vaccination. Everyone was disappointed that the vaccine failed in 4,700 of the 4,700 cases. It is unlikely that any legal or regulatory requirement to do what the organizers did already would have made any difference.
To be fair, Dominic Raab (the foreign secretary) was very clear about this point. Vaccine certificates were more aimed at human behavior than viral load and were intended to persuade young people to get vaccinated. In July, 35% were still not vaccinated when he made the point. This cohort showed higher levels of vaccine hesitancy than any other age group. A watch-and-wait approach might have been better. Because the 18-to 39-year-olds were not given the vaccine as recently as the over-80s, they probably had less contact with their doctors than the over-80s. They were likely to be compared negatively.
Research has shown that forcing anti-vaxxers into taking it would only increase their likelihood of refusing to do so. This is evident when you look at the psychometrics. In their protesting, voluble form, anti-vaxxers imagine themselves as independent thinkers and lone wolves who are immune to groupthink. You won't be allowed to join the group if you don't roll over.
If a passport doesn't solve refusalnik behaviour or infection rates, it looks either panicked and emotionally (quick, do something), or tangential (this may not solve the problem but it will indicate the norm we expect). This is a sensible approach given the current pandemic. Dispassionate analysis and the resulting decisions are the norm for executing public policy. With enough political capital, goodwill, and political capital, those decisions can be made. The goodwill has been eroded by a pattern of incompetence, delay and dishonesty. This tension is evident in the jerky qurulousness of the government's decision-making.
The wider debate about vaccination is more emotional than ever. Anti-vax sentiments can arise from a lack of trust in authority, a reflexive suspicion towards institutions and a belief that they are working for your best interests. These are the anti-vaxxers who deserve respect, and they are often included in news magazines due to the low uptake of certain ethnicities, such as blacks, Asians, and those from minority communities. The louder anti-vaxxers are those who use distress flares to protest and call you sheeple if you don't wear a mask. They are driven by a conspiracist, splenetic mulch of ego over-supply, and hand-me down anti-expertise. These are the worst anti-vaxxers. It is important to recognize that anti-anti-vaxxers can also be quite emotional.
As if it were entirely moral, we emphasized their lack of civic duty and the selfishness of endangering other people on the basis of a Facebook hoax. If we were pure, or fractionally more rational, then we would notice that in the first instance anti-vaxxers are actually endangering themselves. Then, the discussion would need to be more compassionate or dissolve in its own inconsistencies. What expert-lover would you be if you believed that punishing and punishing those who refuse to take the vaccine didn't solve the problem?
Instead of trying to find the contradictions and subconscious allegiances that are influencing each side in order to determine what is driving the conversation into such raging territory we instead attach those emotions to ever more conceptual, difficult binaries: civil liberties or public safety? Is your inalienable bodily autonomy threatening my right to life?
It's not that abstracts are difficult to solve, but that you can rush to find concrete solutions before emotions are acknowledged or heard. This will lead you into territory that won't solve anything.
It reminds me a lot of Brexit, even though I don't like to repeat it. The establishment was a target for the Leavers while the Remainers were a target for the latter. We ended up insulting the people who delivered our food from the supermarkets with all of our relevant and offensive digits. They weren't ready to strike concrete then, and they aren't ready now.