Debate: Is it “selfish” not to get the vaccine?

Matthew Lesh and Emma Webb

July 28, 2021

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, argues YES

People who refuse to get vaccinated are selfish.

Getting the jab is a tiny cost to you. It’s free, conveniently available and takes a tiny amount of time. The most likely negative consequence is some temporary arm discomfort and tiredness. Even for a younger person, the serious risks of getting vaccinated, like blood clots or heart issues, is minuscule compared to the health risks from getting the virus.

By contrast, taking a vaccine shortens the pandemic. It results in less pressure on the healthcare system from people getting sick, fewer demands for lockdowns and all of the associated misery. Life getting back to normal takes vaccinations.

Vaccination also reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to someone who cannot get the vaccine or is immunocompromised. That means fewer hospitalisations and deaths. The latest Israeli data indicates that the Pfizer/BioNTech jab is 41 per cent effective against the Delta variant.  In the context of an exponential pandemic that’s a substantial reduction in opportunities for onward infections.

A vaccinated individual is also less likely to pass along the virus if they become infected. That’s because the vaccine reduces an individual’s viral load (the amount of virus in your system) and symptoms, such as coughing, which makes it harder to pass along. Another Israeli study suggested vaccinated people who get infected are 78 per cent less likely to spread the virus to household members; a Public Health England study, including 365,000 households, found the jab reduces onward transmission by 40-60 per cent.

People should not be forced to get a vaccine. Nor should the state require private businesses to introduce vaccine passports. Nevertheless, we should highlight the consequences to individuals and the broader community from not getting vaccinated. We have obligations to other people in a consenting society.

Refusing a vaccine is not just putting you at risk. It puts everyone at risk.

Emma Webb, political and social commentator, argues NO

In a free and safe society, one very basic thing must be protected from the state or the force of the demos – sovereignty over your own body.

Yet the sands have shifted, excused by the pursuit of a public health objective.

Parliament has passed legislation mandating vaccinations for care home staff. Our ostensibly liberal conservative government may extend this mandate to students, by introducing ‘vaccine passports’. Likewise, for large venues and events come Autumn. The rational is clear: incentivise vaccine take-up with the threat that ‘refuseniks’ will be excluded from participation in key areas of social life.

Those who do not take up the vaccine, according to Michael Gove, are ‘selfish’ for putting others’ lives at risk. Chasing the target of a fully vaccinated population, the government fails to respect the individual’s right to make their own medical choices, even if the majority disagree. It is not an ‘anti-vaxx’ position to acknowledge the dangerous precedent this sets and that we are already, ethically, plummeting down a slippery slope.

By way of an addendum, though the vaccine may reduce transmission, the vaccinated can still get infected and infect others. So, it is not just the unvaccinated that pose a risk to others. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, this is besides the point.

Is it ethically acceptable for the Government to pressure and shame citizens to take a medical action? Is it ethical to require disclosure of medical information in exchange for basic social freedoms and access to services?

The sovereignty of the individual to make their own medical decisions is something that must be respected, regardless of other public health considerations.

Vaccinated or not, is it not a more selfish decision to use a vaccine passport simply to have that pint, see that concert, watch that football game? To sacrifice the long-term wellbeing of society for a short-term jaunt?


Written by Matthew Lesh and Emma Webb

Matthew Lesh is Head of of Research at the Adam Smith Institute and Emma Webb is a political and social commentator

One comment

  1. It is not selfish – If the vaccinated can still contract and spread covid, they are in the same position as those who have not been vaccinated, albeit the unvaccinated may get stronger symptoms. Also, e.g if the vaccine passport allows vaccinated people to go to a concert without testing, surely it is safer for a non vaccinated person to have a test to attend, this way we are certain they don’t have covid, you can’t say that for the vaccinated person! Beside the above issues, why aren’t people allowed to decide what happens to their own body?!! The vaccine may have minimal short term side effects to some people, however, it is stated in the print, when having the vaccine, that this is a trial / experimental vaccine, some people say the unvaccinated should not have medical intervention if contracting covid, will the same rule be requested for those who have had the vaccine and in years to come have side effects that require medical help? If the vaccine is so amazing, why do those who are vaccinated feel threatened by those who
    aren’t ? Lastly, so many other fatal illnesses have been neglected, if the segregation continues and for those not vaccinated to become ruled out of a normal life, this can cause further mental heath issues, more people are committing suicide than dying of covid – If the derogatory comments and negative attitude towards those not vaccinated continues, the people responsible for this will have blood in their hands!!

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