It’s time to stop pandering to anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant

“If you can’t be a team player, you can sit this one out. You can watch from the sidelines as the rest of us get to access a few things that you no longer can.”

The world has felt particularly heavy and grim these past few weeks. Calamity upon calamity has befallen so many countries, it’s hard to know where to even focus one’s attention. So much human misery — it’s like we’re suddenly drowning in grief. 

A recent UN report on the climate emergency and deadly heatwaves around the world pointing to ever-increasing proof that it is indeed “code red for humanity.” The countless natural disasters, the raging wildfires in Greece burning for weeks now, Lebanon on the brink of infrastructure collapse, about to run out of fuel, with patients in hospitals on ventilators who might soon be left to die. The earthquake in Haiti causing thousands of deaths and injuries and more destruction in a country that has already seen more than its share of both. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan plunging the country back into darkness and the imminent refugee crisis that will soon be materializing, with women and children, once again, bearing most of the brunt.

For days, I have been reading helplessly about what’s unfolding in Kandahar, terrified for what this means for women and young girls, particularly for outspoken women’s rights activists who’ve been fighting for so long for basic freedoms and access to education. It’s hard to be hopeful.

In the middle of all this human pain and desperation coming at us from all corners of the earth, we here at home feel it, too. I see friends from the Haitian, Lebanese, Greek, Afghan diaspora expressing their worry for loved ones back home. Even those with no direct ties to any of these countries watch helplessly as they remain battle-weary and exhausted from a pandemic that’s been going strong for a year and a half. Now, we’re collectively bracing for the full effects of a fourth COVID wave that the medical community has warned us is already here. 

Any hopes of a return to a real normal this fall, which I initially had after getting double vaccinated, have been dashed, as the Delta variant has thrown a curveball into those plans. With schools soon opening, my anxiety about what that means for an uptick in COVID cases has amplified. Even as I prepare myself psychologically and mentally for another uncertain winter, I’m grateful for science. I’m also deeply conscious of my western privilege. I’m aware that I live in a country that was able to acquire and quickly administer vaccines to its citizens, while for huge swaths of the world’s population they continue to remain hopelessly out of reach. I am deeply cognizant of the sheer dumb luck I benefit from in simply living here, granting me access to life-saving medicine and healthcare. 

No patience left for anti-vaxxers

People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier amid anti-vaxxers at the vaccine passport protest in Montreal

It is within this world context and while assaulted on all fronts by so much unbearable human misery and destruction that I find myself with no patience left for anti-vaxxers and those who were out protesting vaccine passports this past weekend.

It takes an incredible amount of privilege, entitlement and ignorance to compare emergency public health measures that help us fight a deadly, highly contagious virus that’s killed 4.4 million people in 19 months with a fundamentalist regime like the Taliban or the Nazi dictatorship. Those parading around, brandishing the star of David (co-opting a symbol that evokes gas chambers, medical torture and the murder of innocent Jewish people), claiming that these measures are an infringement on their civil liberties and medical fascism, are displaying both historical ignorance and deep insensitivity. 

While I support vaccine passports, I do believe that one can have an honest and informed discussion about their possible implications on vulnerable and marginalized populations, or even the ethics of such measures, without pretending we don’t already live in a world where your smart phone listens in on your conversations. We already have ample examples of alternate passports allowing us access to services in the form of driver’s licences, firearms licenses, our childhood vaccination booklet, or, you know… that actual passport we use to access cross-border travel. 

While I am sympathetic to people who fear vaccines or have immune issues that prevent them from quickly getting vaccinated, I refuse to cater to conspiracy theorists or people who think their quick Google search is of equal value to 20 years of scientific research or a medical degree. We’re not deciding where to have brunch, people! We’re trying to fight a deadly pandemic! Not everyone’s opinion must be taken into consideration and not everyone should get an equal vote.

The vaccine-hesitant can argue all they want about the safety of vaccines and the speed with which they were approved (both have been dispelled if one cares to “do their research”), but they can’t argue results. Variants or not, the latest government-collected data clearly shows that vaccines work and demonstrate why vaccine passports are warranted as a prevention tool. Choosing to claim that vaccines don’t offer protection simply because they don’t offer 100% protection and we get occasional breakthrough COVID cases is to choose not to wear your seatbelt because some people die while wearing it in a crash. While the Delta variant poses health risks for everyone, the risks are significantly higher for the unvaccinated.

The proof is in the pudding

Anti-vaxxers and vaccine passport protesters in Montreal, Aug. 14. Photo by Thomas Quinn

The latest Quebec data shows that 95% of those who are in hospitals and ICUs in the province are not fully vaccinated. That number is 96% in Alberta. From 11 patients currently in the ICU in Montreal and Laval hospitals, none of them were fully vaccinated. Ontario data shows similar results, with full vaccination reducing one’s chances of catching COVID by 8.9 times, hospitalization by 18.7 times, and ending up in the ICU by 69.5 times. You don’t need to be a statistician to quickly see the difference in protection between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. 

Knowing what we know now about the transmission rate of this virus and having concrete and irrefutable proof of the protection afforded by vaccines, introducing vaccine passports is a sound and responsible decision that prioritizes the collective good over individual choices. 

Taking to the streets to protest being unable to access something as non-essential as a bar, a gym or a concert because you chose not to get vaccinated is the height of irresponsibility. I feel like I’m back in university working on a group project, shouldering the burden and the workload for that one lazy classmate who’s riding on my coattails and my hard work. 

The vaccinated are reducing the transmission rate of COVID, the vaccinated are making it safer in public spaces, the vaccinated are easing the burden for healthcare providers, the vaccinated are reducing hospitalization and ICU rates and the unvaccinated are benefiting. It’s time to do your share. You’re not fighting for my “freedom,” you’re fighting for the right to continue to be self-absorbed and not suffer any consequences for it. If you can’t be a team player, you can sit this one out. You can watch from the sidelines as the rest of us get to access a few things that you no longer can. 

As the evidence continues to mount, showing that vaccines offer protection against serious illness, it’s going to get harder and harder to fully function in society without being vaccinated. 

It’s not a dictatorship, it’s not fascism, it’s not segregation, it’s not a police state — hell, it’s not even punishment. It’s just a science-based approach to protecting society from a highly contagious, unpredictable and deadly virus. ■

Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.