Vaccine card debate raises fascinating issues

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By BEN SUTTON

I read the recent Driftwood website article about demonstrators against vaccine passports with interest.

While the possibility of vaccine passports has been discussed publicly I was surprised that the B.C. government made the politically risky move of introducing them. Inevitably there is controversy surrounding such a restriction of personal freedom. I am certainly not surprised that there are people in our community that take exception to the idea. Any debate concerning this issue should be against a backdrop of the data and reasoning behind it.

Vaccine Effectiveness

There is substantial evidence from B.C., the rest of Canada and other countries (in particular recent data from the U.K.) showing that vaccines are highly effective at reducing COVID infections and more significantly in preventing hospitalization and death. This is true even for the Delta variant, which is seemingly about eight times more contagious than earlier strains of the virus.

As we know, in excess of 75 per cent of cases in B.C. are among the unvaccinated who now represent the minority of adults. It is certainly true, however, that there are a substantial number of cases of infection among vaccinated people. This is hardly surprising given that the vaccines are about 85 per cent effective and vaccinated individuals represent the vast majority of adults.

Public Health Measures

The key issue from a public health perspective is the strain on the health-care system, which stems from the level of infection in the community as a whole. We could, for example, accept that people will continue to die at some rate as a result of this virus, but no one wants a situation where hospitals become unavailable for treatment for any range of accidents or other conditions. No one wants to see people left to die in the street.

There was also the prospect of eliminating the virus by reducing the transmission rate through vaccination and public health measures, but this looks unlikely at this point. Early in the pandemic I think nearly everyone accepted that we needed to limit exposure in public places and multiple business were closed as a result. This caused very significant harm to those business and their employees to the point where the survival of these businesses is threatened.

Legislative Choices

The fourth wave is very much upon us and some of the same choices have to be made again. So consider the options going forward as seen by the B.C. government:

1. Keep cinemas, restaurants and the other public venues open to all and see a steep increase in case load and filling hospitals.

2. Close these venues to all as was done earlier in the pandemic and consign many to bankruptcy or ongoing government handouts.

3. Restrict non-vaccinated people from accessing these venues and allow them to continue business while preventing an exponential increase in COVID cases.

None of these options seem particularly palatable. The question is what is the right thing to do? On the one hand, option 3 seems patently unfair to people who choose not to be vaccinated.

One must remember, however, that in the last year when most people were not vaccinated none of us were allowed to access various public venues. So in that sense nothing has changed.

Personal Freedom

Personal freedom is not something to be taken away lightly and it is a basic right. The basic rule for providing this right is that you have the freedom to do what you want providing it does not harm others.

What are the potential harms in this case? It seems they may be as follows: a). Runaway COVID case loads that impinge on broad access to public health b). Added cost to the taxpayer to treat the resulting patients c). Killing off your old but vaccinated grandmother and by extension others.

I recognize a number of people demonstrating on Salt Spring recently and I certainly don’t feel they are unreasonable people and I do understand the personal choice issue. The idea of forcibly vaccinating people seems abhorrent and these measures might feel the same. I think a reasoned public debate is the best path forward. The last thing we want is polarized anger like we have seem south of the border.

Certainly any debate must be founded on the facts backed up by actual data. The data on infection rates, vaccine efficacy and side effects are all out there. If you don’t believe it as many don’t then you must believe our public health officer is a crook along with all the public health experts globally. Also as an aside, please don’t tell me mRNA vaccines are going to change my DNA. I seem to remember learning in high school in the early 1970s that DNA makes mRNA, which makes protein, not the other way round. Amazingly this fact has stood the test of time.

This is an important issue. Please share your thoughts on the issues and the reasoning behind your thoughts.

The writer has been a Salt Spring resident for 20 years.

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