Opinion

Restricting the unvaccinated

Restricting the unvaccinated

In the United States, sweeping COVID vaccination requirements have been ordered by President Joe Biden, covering not only healthcare and federal government workers but also private sector employees.

The US, which is home to COVID vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, has the world’s largest stockpile of anti-COVID vaccines, with people able to get their shots even in pharmacies. It also has enormous capacities for regular COVID testing, with test kits available even for home use. But there is strong vaccine hesitancy in the country, which Biden is blaming for the spike in COVID infections and deaths attributed to the Delta variant. Health experts have described it as the pandemic of the unvaccinated.

In the Philippines, where the slow vaccination is affecting even economic growth forecasts for the year, the biggest business groups are asking the government for permission to impose restrictions on unvaccinated employees and customers, particularly in areas such as Metro Manila where the inoculation targets for the adult priority groups are nearing attainment. The groups point out that this will protect both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, restore consumer confidence and speed up the revival of the economy.

They issued the appeal amid reports of continued resistance to COVID vaccines even where the jabs are available. Health experts attribute the vaccine hesitancy to misinformation particularly on social media as well as residual fears arising from the hysteria over the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Health experts have stressed that even vaccinated people can carry the virus without getting sick and infect the unvaccinated. Those infected can in turn pass on the virus to unvaccinated members of their household, particularly minors, the elderly and those with comorbidities. There are reports that the unvaccinated also tend to be more potent carriers of the virus and, in the season of Delta, they can cause breakthrough infections even among the fully vaccinated.

Anti-vaxxers have invoked their right of refusal, but this must be balanced against the right of others to be protected from infection. The government has banned smoking in enclosed public spaces to protect public health. Why not provide protection against a highly contagious and deadly disease? The business groups’ proposal will ease pressure on the heavily burdened healthcare system, save lives and help get the economy out of intensive care.