Monica Doumit: Vaccine coercion is deeply troubling

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Requiring those living in affected LGAs to make their ability to provide for their families dependent on vaccination – no matter how they feel about that – is problematic, writes Monica Doumit.

The rationale for vaccine coercion seems to change daily

By this time next week, I’ll be one of the increasing number of Australians who have received both shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine (what a friend of mine humorously calls the ‘clot shot’).

Before COVID, I never thought much about vaccines: their moral or public health implications, their efficacy, the length or rigour of their clinical trials or anything else. I unquestioningly received all the ones recommended by travel doctors – even when not compulsory – whenever I went overseas and got the flu shot every year. For me, it has always been pure pragmatism: I don’t like being sick and I especially don’t like the time it seems to waste. So, jab me with anything you want if you think it will keep me from being sick.

One of the key foundational principles of medical ethics is that of respect for patient autonomy: that a patient gives voluntary and informed consent for any medical intervention.

In the end, it was this pragmatism that became the deciding factor for me. I was always planning on being vaccinated but was hoping to hold off until I was eligible for Pfizer, or until the Novavax vaccine hit our shores.

But between a doctor friend of mine predicting Novavax wouldn’t be here until next year (and encouraging me to get any vax available), and the increasing hints from the Premier that those who were double-vaxxed would be the first to be released from their lockdown captivity, I just figured I would get the AZ so I could get back to some semblance of a normal life.

That a vaccine will be a prerequisite for individual and collective so-called ‘freedom’ does not sit comfortably with me, but given I was going to get the vaccine at some point anyway, the methods of the vaccine rollout did not change my personal decision.

I am much more troubled by the vaccine coercion that is currently occurring for those who live in the LGAs labeled as ‘areas of concern.’ And yes, it is coercion.

According to the most recent public health order, construction workers, childcare and disability support workers living in western or southwestern Sydney, as well as anyone from these ‘LGAs of concern’ who works in any job outside their own LGA must have had at least one jab if they want to go to work from Monday.

We have heard time and time again from the Premier and the Chief Health Officer that many people who live in these LGAs of concern are the ones who cannot work from home: a disproportionate number work in low-paying roles in construction, retail and domestic services, and so they cannot do their job from home with a laptop and a wifi connection.
Notwithstanding this recognition, those who cannot work from home will only be able to maintain their livelihood – at least in the short term – if they get the vaccine.

Those living in any other part of the state are not presented with the same ultimatum. We are not only being separated into two classes of citizens, the vaccinated and unvaccinated; we are being divided by postcode. Those who live in western and southwestern Sydney now have fewer medical choices as those in other parts of the state, or the country for that matter.

Many people, and definitely some we hear speaking at the daily media conferences, seem to just shrug this division off. They argue that the virus is rampant in these LGAs and dismiss those who are reluctant to be vaccinated as simply being selfish and unreasonable. But it’s far too simplistic to write off the ‘vaccine hesitant’ as either.

For whatever of the medical assurances we have received, it is clear the vaccine approval processes were streamlined in order to get ‘jabs in arms.’ What’s more, even Blind Freddy could see the convenient timing in the change of health advice for AstraZeneca.

As recently as 24 June, we were being told that AstraZeneca was not recommended for anyone aged under 60, and that it would be phased out of Australia’s vaccine rollout altogether by October. Days later, we were being assured that it was safe and effective for anyone aged 18 or over.

That’s quite the turnaround.

But instead of explaining that the risk-benefit analysis for AstraZeneca changed once community transmission started to rise and answering the legitimate questions and concerns arising from the sudden change in advice, those at the highest levels of the political and commentariat classes appeared to demonise people for having the temerity to ask at all.

I have heard others argue that mandatory vaccination in employment is nothing new because it has long been accepted practice when it comes to frontline healthcare professionals. Additionally, the yellow fever vaccine is also mandatory for those who want to travel to South America. That may be true, but those who choose to travel to those places or work in frontline health roles are made aware of the vaccination requirements in advance.

And the rules apply across the board when it comes to travel and health; they are not enforced based on where in Australia a person lives. The two situations aren’t comparable, and shouldn’t be treated as such. One of the key foundational principles of medical ethics is that of respect for patient autonomy: that a patient gives voluntary and informed consent for any medical intervention.

Requiring some patients to agree to receiving a vaccine – based solely on their postcode – in order to keep receiving a paycheck goes against the principle of autonomy in every, single way.

I’m 100 per cent per cent pro-vaccination, and 100 per cent opposed to the division that these types of policies cause.

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