Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.
I’m a Covid hardliner: pro-vax, pro-mask and — if the circumstances demand it — pro-lockdown. I’ve listened to those who think otherwise, but haven’t been convinced by their arguments.
So when a colleague warned me last year that compulsory vaccinations were on the way — plus second-class citizen status for the unvaccinated — I thought he was exaggerating. Things like that might happen in China, but not in the West.
But even worse is the prospect of compulsory vaccination. According to Angela Merkel (and her successor, Olaf Scholz) they’ll be coming by February.
I wonder how the German authorities intend to enforce the new policy? As far as I know, there are no plans for physical coercion. Unwilling citizens won’t be literally held down while somebody forces a needle into their veins. However there are other methods of persuasion. The state doesn’t need to use violence if it wants to ruin your life.
There’s the prospect of indefinite lockdown, for instance. Or what if a refusal to get vaccinated becomes grounds for dismissal — and not just in hospitals and care homes?
Direct financial penalties could be another weapon. The Greek government is already introducing fines of a hundred euros of month for older people who fail to get jabbed.
At this point I’d like to stress that getting jabbed is a very good idea. Vaccines work — and the evidence on the efficacy of booster shots is encouraging. And yet the decision must remain that of the individual. A vaccine mandate is not like a mask mandate. In penetrating the body it literally crosses a line — the one between you and the rest of the world.
I’m more relaxed about the frontiers of the state rolling forward than a lot of Conservatives are. But all the way into my bloodstream? Not without my say so.
But just how absolute is the principle of bodily autonomy? Imagine a serious outbreak of, say, Ebola somewhere in Europe. Should the authorities do everything possible to contain the threat — including compulsory isolation and medical treatment? I think that most of us, a few libertarians excepted, would say “yes”.
The uncomfortable fact is that very few of our liberties are entirely beyond question. There are circumstances in which most of them can be reasonably taken away from us by the state. However, that is precisely why governments need to wield such power with the utmost restraint. And therein lies the problem.
In my experience, most politicians are not in fact power-crazed maniacs. However, they are desperate to prove their relevance. One only has to look at Ursula von der Leyen’s intervention on vaccine mandates. At a press conference last week, the President of the European Commission advocated an EU-wide policy: “How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union? This needs discussion. This needs a common approach.”
It really doesn’t. As this pandemic has proven time-and-time again, patterns of infection differ between countries (even neighbouring ones). Therefore they require country-specific responses. To filter these decisions through the EU’s unwieldy power structures and then impose them as a one-size-fits-all policy across the continent is the last thing that Europe needs. Wasn’t the debacle of the EU’s vaccine procurement programme warning enough?
Not for the first time, the British can count themselves lucky that we’re not part of this anymore. But can we be sure that vaccine mandates won’t cross the Channel?
Laurence Fox was among those horrified by Oliver Dowden’s reassurances on the matter. Asked, by Julia Hartley-Brewer to rule out German-style policies for the UK, the Conservative Party Chairman said “It’s not something we want to do or plan to do in the United Kingdom. And the reason why we… won’t hopefully have to do any of that is because of the booster…”
Leaping upon the ambiguities in Dowden’s answer, Hartley-Brewer pressed him to unequivocally rule out and condemn the German approach. You can judge for yourself, but I don’t think he did — though he did his voice his disagreement with compulsory vaccination “in principle”.
Hartley-Brewer wasn’t satisfied with that. She wanted a categorical statement that the government would “never, ever under any circumstances bring in mandatory jabs and never put in a lockdown for those who are unvaccinated.” Indeed, she pronounced herself “stunned that politicians across the board in this country aren’t making that statement.”
I’m not. If we can’t rule out a scenario in which the choice is between locking-down the unvaccinated only and locking-down the whole country, then we can be sure that our leaders will want to keep their options open.