While the U.S. continues to grapple with efficient COVID vaccine rollout, another more prominent question remains: Will COVID vaccination sooner or later become mandatory?
With regards to COVID, this is arguably the most contentious topic on the table right now. Fortunately (or unfortunately, however you view it), several countries have already taken the matter in hand and maximized their vaccination efforts, allowing the rest of us to observe how and what that looks like. Interestingly enough, these nations also have a history, whether currently or in recent history, of civil unrest.
As we continue to ruminate on the best possible course of action, and public trust or distrust of the vaccine waxes and wanes, it will be crucial to observe how that unrest rises or stalls in the midst of a broader discussion on civil liberties and personal rights.
How Things Currently Stand in the U.S.
Before we take a look at these key examples, let’s reiterate how things stand here at home.
Forced or mandated vaccination is a hot topic, and for good reason. Proponents say mandatory vaccinations will allow the greatest number of the population to receive vaccines as quickly as possible, and therefore immunize more and more Americans at a faster pace. The opposition heartily believes that mandatory vaccines put civil liberties at risk, expanding on federal and state mask mandates and business closures.
The opposition heartily believes that mandatory vaccines put civil liberties at risk.
Though President Biden has not officially declared a vaccine mandate, he has gone on record saying that his administration will apparently attempt to vaccinate 1.5 million Americans a day in the next 100 days, which he raised from his previous goal of 100 million in 100 days. This comes in the wake of numerous revelations that many cities are currently sitting on full supplies of vaccines, yet the bureaucratic efficacy they’re employing in the roll out just isn’t cutting it.
Surprisingly enough, civil unrest and forced vaccination once went hand-in-hand. In 1904, as a show of strengthening his country’s burgeoning labor force, Brazilian director of public health Oswaldo Cruz, with the initial backing of President Rodrigo Alves, implemented a mandated vaccine program for the entire working population, as well as vaccination in order to receive marriage certificates, employment contracts, and the ability to travel. The program was meant to strengthen the workforce and national economy by preventing yellow fever and smallpox when they were running rampant.
But Cruz’s vaccination program read more like a repressive police force than a public health initiative, with harsh punishments for opposing the mandate. All in all, in a three day period after the implementation of the program, nearly 500 people were arrested and 461 deported, with hundreds more wounded and killed when 2,000 protestors against the program met Brazilian police in the streets. The implementation was a disaster, and President Alves was forced to retract the program. Evident or otherwise, there is a link between the diminishing of civil liberties under the guise of “public health” and an increase in public unrest.
Israel’s history of unrest and conflict, both domestically and internationally, is as long as it is complicated.
Recently, it made news once again for having one of the most efficient and successful vaccine roll outs seen globally. While some view the push for vaccination as a distraction from an impending election and corruption allegations against elected officials, ordered vaccination has seen 88% of the population receiving the jab as of early January.
Israeli citizens are required through law to register with one of the country’s four healthcare systems, which caused demand for the vaccination to skyrocket. Meanwhile, some wonder at how vaccination will be approached in the highly contentious zones of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where violent activity continues.
Ordered vaccination has seen 88% of the population receiving the jab as of early January.
Just yesterday, an alleged Palestinian assailant was shot and killed while purportedly attempting to jump the barrier at the West Bank junction. Even as their vaccination rates climb due to a quick and mandatory roll out and a sense of normalcy resumes, it doesn’t appear that this national progress will in any way ameliorate the situation in the disputed area.
As it stands currently, France remains one of Europe’s most skeptical countries when it comes to the vaccine. Whereas Germany had vaccinated 300,000 citizens, in the same time period, France’s universalized, state-run healthcare system had rolled out just 2,000 doses, despite 237 million doses having been procured for the country.
Widespread skepticism has led the government to devise what many are branding a sham — a heavily complex consent policy with the goal of getting more citizens vaccinated. However, this has only led to more bureaucratic disruption, and the overall rollout process has slowed considerably.
Alongside this process, which seems to be marred by corruption and scandal, France has arguably entered one of its most high-profile periods in terms of civil unrest. Even as President Emanuel Macron considers yet another national lockdown (this will be their third, if implemented), protests and union-backed marches have been seen consistently across the country as a response to lockdown restrictions and national frustration with the economic and social implementation of the federal mandates.
Many have also marched against a new proposed “security” law, which opposition argues is a far-reaching and invasive piece of legislation. Instances of expressed Islamic extremism have also been evident alongside COVID regulations. Civil unrest is expected to increase, should another lockdown be implemented and the security legislation passed.
Of all these examples, China is perhaps the most notable of all.
While China approved several vaccines as early as August 2020, they were criticized for approving several which hadn’t been included in large-scale trials. Though many question how the state (which probably won’t approve of rejecting the vaccine for the purpose of things like respect for civil liberties) will vaccinate its population of 1.4 billion people, spokespeople and healthcare officials assure the public they’re well-equipped to do so.
Disputes over those very same civil liberties have been the motivation behind democratically-led protests in Hong Kong in recent months. Hong Kong officials and bureaucrats remain unable to express criticism or concern against the state for fear of seeming “anti-China.” Global voices, many of them with democracy in mind, have publicly expressed their disapproval of the draconian measures taken to limit dissent in Hong Kong.
U.K. announced recently that it would welcome and assist in naturalizing citizens of Hong Kong.
When the U.K. announced recently that it would welcome and assist in naturalizing citizens of Hong Kong, China announced that it would no longer recognize British passports as official documents. As geopolitical tensions continue to escalate surrounding the territory, China will likely publicly exhibit the more successful points of its vaccination program.
While correlation in no way implies causation, for better or worse, we’re seeing the tie between healthcare policy and political expression become stronger. Even as we’ve been urged not to politicize the pandemic or the measures taken to contain it, at many times that link seems like an inevitable conclusion.
What does remain is the fundamental truth that mandatory vaccination, or even performative anger over concern at the vaccine, is a disturbing and disingenuous concept to tackle. We don’t yet know what things will look like post-COVID, as our communities and larger societal institutions recover, but if we attempt to achieve progress and recovery through the dissolution of basic rights, we may see social unrest begin to increase in response.