Vaccine passports set to become the new battleground
Anti Vaxxers hang a protest sign in the main street of Mullumbimby, in Ballina, NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Scott Powick
There is good news from England. Experts are quite sure it is good news but are less confident about how that good news has come about.
The expectation had been when England undertook its Freedom Day escape from lockdowns, mandated social distancing and mask wearing that Covid-19 infections would leap into the stratosphere. They haven’t, and no one is quite sure why.
Perhaps it is the warm summer with the rare appearance of a weak sun over the Old Dart, dispatching Turner’s leaden skies albeit briefly. People spend more time outside. Children are on school holidays. People are still wearing masks and social distancing.
England remains a fascinating test case for the rest of the world. Where we have seen rises in Covid-19 infections it has been in children (ages five to 18) but the anticipated 100,000 cases per day have not eventuated. In fact, the reverse has been the case with new infections almost halving over the last month.
While we wait it out in Australia with a series of rolling lockdowns, the English are attempting to resort to the good old days where the only mention of Covid-19 may have come from a misspelt tweet from POTUS 45.
Now having opened up, the English are dealing with the next stage of re-entry into a form of Covid-19 normal and that includes vaccine passports. At present nothing is mandated. The Johnson government has encouraged businesses with a higher risk of Covid transmission to voluntarily adopt its NHS Covid Pass, allowing people who seek to enter premises to prove they are free of the virus. Users can show they have either had two doses of an approved vaccine, a negative PCR or lateral flow test result within 48 hours of entry.
And with that all hell has broken loose. Pubs and nightclubs who follow the government’s encouragement have been subject to abuse and vile threats from the usual suspects – anti-vaxxers and those who believe choosing not to vaccinate should be a decision made entirely without consequence.
Some employers are insisting that all employees be vaccinated as a condition of employment and again they have faced some social media abuse for their trouble. These will be major political challenges in Australia as we slowly move forward to our 70 and 80 per cent vaccination thresholds.
Vaccination passports are set to become the new battleground between the vast majority who choose to vaccinate and those who will not. Prominent anti-lockdowners and anti-vaxxers have already signalled this is where the fight is headed.
Protesters hold a banner while walking through Bourke Street during a rally for freedom in Melbourne. Picture: Getty
Vaccine passports are not new. Anyone who has ever travelled to parts of Africa will know that proof of vaccination for Yellow Fever is a condition of entry.
But those who cry freedom while accusing the government of establishing a new Apartheid based on those who do and those don’t have proof of vaccination aren’t so concerned about the terrible imposition that has prevented them from entering Ghana for the last 30 years.
Nor are these people eight years of age. If they were, we could sit them down and discuss the whole business of actions and consequences. If they were eight, they would understand at a basic level that when they make choices, those choices come with consequences. If they choose to vaccinate, the immediate consequence is a pin prick in the left shoulder and maybe a bit of a washed out feeling for a day or two.
If they choose not to vaccinate, not only are they exposing themselves to the ravages of a disease that could kill them or make them very sick for a very long time, but they are diminishing the opportunity for others to enjoy the prospect of herd immunity. They also create the preconditions for further outbreaks because being unvaccinated, they are also more infectious for longer.
But let’s just park the business of collective responsibility and social contracts for a minute.
Anti-vaxxers rarely if ever raise the issue of long Covid which comes with a whole host of enduring health concerns – chronic fatigue, renal illness, cardiac and respiratory illness, cognitive dysfunction and yes, even erectile dysfunction. Long Covid can come in the wake of asymptomatic infection. These circumstances are rarely reported but they need to be.
Like all of us, the ‘I’m not anti-vaccination but…’ have choices to make. The introduction of vaccine passports as a condition of entry to licenced premises, to concerts, to domestic and international flights, to travel without boundaries, real or imagined, is where they will fight the hardest.
How serious will the federal government be about vaccine passports is a question that needs to be framed around one immutable fact: there will be a federal election at some point over the next 10 months.
People who are vaccinated generally speaking look forward to using vaccination passports. Whether that is 70 per cent of adult Australians or 80 is yet to be determined. Government figures think we can hit 70 per cent vaccinated relatively easily but 80 per cent might be a stretch.
Regardless, we are talking about an overwhelming majority in support of vaccination passports while the other, let’s say 25 per cent are vehemently opposed to them.
In the spectrum of an election, that means an election date will come between crossing that 70 per cent of adults vaccinated threshold and when the country opens its borders again.
No one can be sure how that rough figure of 25 per cent of unvaccinated voters will vote. Will they opt for minor parties, perhaps of an anti-vax nature? Probably but if so, the question remains where will those preferences fall? Will they extinguish or can they drive a government from power?
These great unknowns will largely determine the nature of vaccine passports in Australia. If I dare predict what might happen in nine months from the current chaos, it will be that vaccine passports will be of the soft, optional and opt in variety.
Industrial and employment issues have already arisen, and these will grow with employers essentially left to their own devices. No government facing the people is likely to legislate to create a framework for employment based on vaccination, leaving employers and employees to sort it out through the Fair Work Commission and in the courts.
It is going to get very messy. Beyond that, we are looking at a great schism in national unity that will take years to repair if it can be repaired at all.