There’s a global debate among bioethicists – and other experts – on whether vaccine mandates are ethically justified. The debate, of course, has spread to South Africa, where we conducted our research as human rights and constitutional law experts interested in bioethics.
The Constitution it is the supreme law of South Africa. In essence, there is a moral view of people as autonomous moral agents, able to rationally form their own opinions. This vision, we argue, will be shattered by a vaccine mandate, at least at this stage.
in a recent article, bioethicist Keymanthri Moodley argued that the South African Constitution requires that any limitation of rights, such as a vaccine mandate, be proportionate to the purpose of the limitation, in this case, to protect public health. The greater the risk to public health, the greater the limitation of individual rights. Therefore, the argument goes, given the great risk to public health, a vaccine mandate is warranted.
However, the Constitution also requires that the less Restrictive means must be used when limiting rights.. There is no doubt that Covid-19 poses a great threat to public health. But we suggest that a vaccine mandate is clearly not the least restrictive means of protecting public health from Covid-19.
There are many other policy options, such as incentive schemes, that have yet to be implemented in South Africa. Research on vaccine incentives is still in its infancy, but preliminary data suggests that can have a positive impact. Several states have already offered a variety of incentives, such as prize money, lotteries with monetary or other prizes, and free or discounted food.
Exploring these incentives, along with other strategies to promote vaccine absorption, must be seriously explored before South Africa considers the route of a vaccination mandate.
Trust and uncertainty
It is important to consider the issue of public trust in government and in the science of Covid-19 vaccines.
A vaccine mandate is a drastic political measure that can have far-reaching consequences; in fact, it could even backfire. Firstly, public trust in government is low as a result of his (mis) handling of the pandemic so far. Second, there is a climate of vaccine hesitancy among many members of South African society, apparently influenced by government failures in the vaccine implementation process.
Third, doubts about vaccines around the world appear to be motivated, in part, by conspiracy theories about vaccines as a means of gaining authoritarian control. Those who hold these views would find themselves vindicated by a government-driven vaccine mandate. These three factors could result in widespread and organized rejection of vaccination by members of the public and health professionals. We have seen this in France, where tens of thousands have taken to the streets in protests for weeks, and the US, where protests have turned violent recently.
TO recent report by the National Revenue Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) found that vaccine vacillation in South Africa was caused, to a significant degree, by concerns about the side effects of Covid-19 vaccines, which were linked to the lack of access to reliable information about them. Despite this, the NIDS-CRAM data show that openness to vaccination among South Africans is on the rise.
The solution, given that this is a time when confidence in the safety of the vaccine appears to be increasing, is clearly not to bring down the hammer. As we’ve discussed previously, this could do more harm than good by causing people to reject vaccines rather than embrace them. Instead, the government must address issues such as lack of access to reliable vaccine information by further strengthening its efforts to make scientifically sound and verified information available to South Africans. Scientific research has shown that people who received information about Covid-19 through reliable information channels are more likely to accept vaccinations.
The Constitution as a guide
Even in times of crisis, the South African government has a duty to fulfill its constitutional obligations. This has been encoded in case of law Recently.
It is important that the South African government recognize this and treat citizens with respect by engaging with their concerns, making information about vaccines more accessible, and exploring policy avenues such as incentivizing vaccines, rather than using the law as a hammer. authoritarian to hit them. pursuant.
The Constitution requires nothing less.