Right vs life — The Nation Editorial

Posted by News Express | 6 September 2021 | 601 times

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The rights controversy, on COVID-19 vaccination, is absolutely unnecessary.  Between human right and human life in a public health emergency, there should be no doubt which is supreme.

Still, such controversies rage in democracies.  But even more fundamental to every democracy – indeed to any government worth its name – is the wellbeing of every citizen.  That sole imperative trumps every other; particularly during a killer pandemic like COVID-19.

That effectively makes the case for mass COVID-19 vaccination.  But the government must source enough vaccines for all.  There is hardly any rights argument that can tip the scale otherwise.

The excitement over the jab has come from rights groups, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), over signals of possible government sanctions against COVID-19 vaccine sceptics.

Dr. Faisal Shuaibu, executive director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), the body that drives the vaccination nationwide, had told the press in Abuja that the Federal Government was mulling sanctions against those who resist the jab, even after it is readily available.  The operative phase here is “after it is made available to all”, aside from the imperative to stop vaccine resisters from endangering the health of others.

Earlier, the government of Edo State had announced a massive roll-out plan, to start by the second week of September. It declared vaccination mandatory; and swore to, after the exercise, bar the unvaccinated from markets, worship centres, government offices and even event centres.  An aggrieved Edo citizen, though via a Rivers High Court in Port Harcourt, has secured an ex parte injunction against the move, pending the final determination of the suit.

Ondo State, on its part, just declared open a two-week window, during which every resident in the state must be vaccinated, failure of which the unvaccinated risk being shut out of markets, government offices and other public areas.  The Ondo motive may be noble but the two-week deadline is clearly far-fetched, since it doesn’t have enough vaccines to go round everyone.

The fear of punishing even the willing public, though vaccines are not readily available, is driving the opposition from rights groups and others. That, at least, is clear from the NMA and JOHESU stands.  But this need not snowball into another distraction in controversies.  The NPHCDA boss, after all, subjected his thinking to enough vaccines going round.

Both the Edo and Ondo state governments too must work on that aspect of their communication; to stress their planned actions are not a willy-nilly application of the whip, with or without enough vaccines.  They must continue to stress one point: only the recalcitrant will face sanctions – and only when rigorously proven so – after the government has provided enough vaccines to go round.

But that assurance would call for tactical flexibility, on the government’s part, in the vaccination time table; without taking their eyes off the strategic goal of vaccinating most of the populace.  Seventy per cent vaccination and above is needed for herd immunity, to take the sting off COVID-19, once and for all.

Still, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State was spot on when he declared himself surprised that “some persons in purported pursuit of their fundamental human rights would embark on litigation tourism … to become a source of public health danger and put at risk the safety and health of the larger population.”

COVID-19 is a chequered killer.  To battle it, the public health imperative to save lives must trump whatever individual rights, other things being equal.  Individuals may well have the right to resist vaccination — and, in that course, commit virtual suicide.  But they definitely have no right to spread the virus and commit mass murder.  No responsible government will allow that.

Instead of needless antagonism, therefore, rights/interest groups should partner with the government to find the best methods for the vaccination to succeed.  Any controversy outside that would equate the Shakespearean tale, this time not told by an idiot but by the well-heeled, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Source: News Express

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