The tyranny of the unvaccinated minority

Editor’s note:  This article was written on 22 December.  Since then, Quebec case loads are over 16,000 and Ontario’s peak so far at near 18,000, both of which are considered underestimates.

By George Petrolekas

In medicine, in the face of either injuries, infection or other maladies, the medical system in peace and especially in war practices triage. In short, care is provided to those who have the best chances to survive. Up until this pandemic, the triage system has been entirely objective assuming that all things being equal – decisions on care were based simply on survivability.

This pandemic, has introduced a new dynamic that we have not come to terms with. What if an individual’s care is a result of a self-inflicted wound? If all things are equal, should an individual who wounded themselves, have the same access to a limited ventilator or ICU bed as someone who finds themselves needing care for no fault of their own?

We have avoided this difficult discussion as our system is somewhat egalitarian. You are admitted into hospital, and professionals do everything to save your life. If you’re taking up an ICU bed, you likely won’t be removed from care if another person requiring ICU care for let’s say a heart attack appears. So it becomes a combination of triage, but egalitarian triage – first comes first served.

In Quebec on 22 December, COVID cases spiked from 5,300 on the previous day to 9,000. Of hospitalized patients, though 10% of the general population was unvaccinated, the unvaccinated represented 50% of hospitalizations according to Premier Legault.

These figures must provoke a societal discussion that we thus far avoided.

In a democracy, we promote and preserve individual rights, it is the heart of a democracy. That includes the right to not be vaccinated. It is also implicit that an individual right should not limit the rights of others. Furthermore, democracies presume that individual rights must be balanced by collective responsibility. We balance individual rights to pollute on our own property, or to own weapons, or to what individual peccadilloes might be such as collecting porn or rights under spurious religious beliefs against the balance of society and how one’s individual rights might infringe on the rights of others or what society accepts for the greater good.

We are, regrettably on that point of inflection where pleading to logic and responsibility is not enough. Premier Legault on his 22 December press conference pleaded with those who have chosen to not vaccinate to stay at home, to not go out. But in effect, he has little legal means of persuasion other than moral suasion.

In other jurisdictions, the plea to individual responsibility has been backed by sterner measures. In Australia, authorities have warned of social isolation. In Singapore, unvaccinated people taking public health beds, spaces and treatment will have to pay for those. In Greece, people over sixty who refuse to vaccinate are subject to fines.

In the recent federal election, one party promoted increased and frequent testing of the unvaccinated in an attempt to find a balance. However, that is no longer a viable option. There is a penury of available home test kits, and confirmatory PCR testing spaces to the point that the Quebec government for example has asked its citizens not to be tested unless they are symptomatic. That’s too late, it only confirms someone has been infecting others until the time of their test. Contact tracing is no longer viable either with 9,000 plus daily infections and Legault asked citizens to now inform others that they’ve been infected. The likelihood of that happening is near zero. “Hey, my friend, I might have infected you, as I’ve now tested positive for COVID”.

And so, without adopting a Sinaporean or Greek example, the regime of vaccine passports should be expanded greatly to not be limited to restaurants and bars. Not vaccinated; forget going to the shopping mall and small commercial establishments, to the big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot or Canadian Tire. Perhaps the only societal access should be to government services and grocery stores and nothing else.

Months and months of information, pleas to better angels of people’s nature clearly have not worked. Stubbornly, in Canada writ large, we have reached a plateau of approximately 82% fully vaccinated, with a cohort of 18% who refuses to. That 18% of a population could hold hostage 82% of the rest of the Canadian population is unfathomable, and in doing so also denying them to health care they in turn might need.

An individual’s right to refuse vaccination, and becoming a transmission vector impinges on not only my rights, but to those around me.  Enough!

George Petrolekas, a former Colonel, and strategic advisor to senior military commanders, is a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Photo: iStock