Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Covid-19November 15, 2021

The pandemic and Covid vaccine are new, but mandates aren’t

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Every day, we follow mandates for the good of collective health. The vaccine mandates are no different. 

When vaccine mandates were announced a couple of weeks ago the reaction in some quarters was visceral.

You may have seen people protest leaders comparing the mandates to Nazi Germany, apartheid and rape. You may have also seen people taking part in the Sovereign Hikoi of Truth or Freedom picnics holding signs accusing the prime minister of everything from fascism to communism by way of totalitarianism.

While people are afraid and upset that they might lose their livelihood over their refusal to get a vaccine, their claims and comparisons are not only highly offensive but also inaccurate.

The global pandemic is new and unique, but mandates to protect public health are not.

Ever since its foundation, the New Zealand government has written dozens of laws explicitly to protect the individual and collective health of its people.

Each time new laws are proposed or imposed there have been emotional protests, with people claiming the law infringes on their freedom and arguing that the government can’t tell them what to do.

Remember how upset select pub owners and patrons were when smoking was banned indoors? Despite the few loud opposing voices, the ban passed into law on the recommendation and advice of multiple experts, based on data and investigations proving the positive public health impact would outweigh any negative individual compromise.

When there’s compelling evidence that an individual’s actions endanger the health and safety of others (or themselves), we find ways to limit the harm that the individual can do. In some cases, that is achieved through the implementation of new laws and mandates.

When research showed that X number of workplace injuries happened because of Y cause, or that a major factor in vehicular injuries was drink driving, our government understood the actions needed to minimise such injuries and deaths, and passed laws that made workplaces and roads safer for all.

Research and expert advice are only one part of it though. The government also needs public support to make these policies effective.

New Zealand had mandated the smallpox vaccine starting in the 1860s, but compliance was low with very few children actually receiving the vaccine. However, when the polio epidemic broke out in the 1940s vaccination rates increased dramatically because the population could see first-hand the impact of both the virus and the vaccine.

Vaccine mandates aim to support the majority group (those who are vaccinated) by providing safe workplaces and, more broadly, healthy environments in which people can carry on their lives. However it’s important to remember the mandate doesn’t restrict unvaccinated people from accessing basic public facilities such as supermarkets, pharmacies, doctors and some shops. Unvaccinated people can still find work, study, feed their families, receive healthcare and live their lives.

The limits occur in places where there’s a high risk of infecting others — places like hairdressers, gyms, restaurants, events and some workplaces. Unvaccinated people are roughly 20x more likely to infect others than vaccinated people.

It’s also important to note that unvaccinated people are not being discriminated against based on any intrinsic identifiers such as race, gender, age, religion or sexuality. They are being restricted based on a personal choice, which they can change at any time.

Most business owners will already be familiar with the health and safety guidelines they have to comply with, depending on their industry. There are protective gloves, safety goggles, ladder heights, procedural guidelines and more, all to keep workers safe from accidental harm and businesses in operation. Here are a few more examples of rules we all follow every day in order to keep others safe.

A non-comprehensive list of current public health mandates and restrictions in New Zealand

Indoor smoking ban

You’re free to smoke in private – it’s not illegal – but you’re not free to cause harm to the people around you with second-hand smoke. Laws were put in place to protect the non-smoking majority from the personal choices of the few.

Commercial food safety restrictions

You’re free to grow and cook and clean as you like in your home, but if you’re a chef or grower responsible for feeding others you must adhere to strict guidelines to protect their health. Rules exist to protect customers and keep your business operating.

Drink driving laws

You’re free to drink yourself to oblivion at home or at a mate’s, but the second you get behind the wheel of a car you’re endangering other lives. “I can handle my alcohol, I’ll be fine,” you might say, just as people say “I trust my immune system” with regard to vaccines, but that doesn’t deny the risk that increases with each unit of alcohol in your blood.

Let’s also mention seatbelt laws and driving licences, while we’re on the topic.

Mandated bicycle helmets

I used to hate wearing my helmet as a kid because it didn’t look cool, but the truth is if I’d fallen off my bike or been hit by a car it would have potentially saved my life. Wearing a helmet won’t stop you from falling, but it can make it less likely that you’ll die or suffer severe traumatic head injuries.

Mandated life jackets

Yes they can be bulky and sweaty and annoying when you just want to have some fun on your boat, but they can also be the difference between drowning and staying alive long enough to be rescued. Wearing a life jacket won’t stop you from getting wet, but it can give you a fighting chance to survive a capsize.

Skydiving licences

“But I want the freedom to jump out of an airplane! I’ve seen it in movies, it doesn’t look that hard. Just pull the thing, right? Easy as.” Nope, the government won’t let you do that. You have to take training and pass certification to be allowed to skydive solo.

Worksafe laws and regulations

Don’t you just hate it when the government makes you wear safety goggles so you don’t get a spark in your eye and go blind? Protective clothing is required in a range of industries and tasks to keep you safe from physical harm, or at the very least mitigate any damage in the event of an accident.

Being part of society comes with commitments. We commit to protecting each other, or at least to doing as little harm to one another as possible. The vast majority of New Zealanders have committed to doing the right thing by getting vaccinated against Covid-19; they deserve to be kept safe.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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