[Opinion] Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandated?

“The vaccines are here! We are going to be free from the pandemic!”

These phrase (or those with somewhat similar meanings) are coming from those in the know. Excited and elated that what changes the vaccines would bring, they’ll be soon free from the shackles that came with COVID-19, and return to the life before COVID-19.

The speed of the development of COVID-19 vaccines is no doubt an extraordinary feat that only modern science could have brought. Vaccines usually take about 5 to 10 years to market. The COVID-19 vaccines on the other hand, went from zero to being injected into people in less than a year.

With the hard part of developing the vaccine solved, comes the even bigger hurdle – obtaining the acceptance of the vaccine by the public. Increasing public trust and confidence in a world that is currently full of distrust is going to be a challenge. Then comes the question of whether should these COVID-19 vaccines be mandated to ensure people get vaccinated.

Let’s first take a look at the current numbers on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.

Statistics based on polls conducted on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance

According to a survey of responses from about 68,000 American adults conducted in Jan 6-18, 10% indicate that they will definitely not get the shots, 14% saying they probably will not, while 26% saying they probably will, and the rest (about 50%) definitely taking the vaccine (Wall Street Journal, accessed on 21 March 2021).

Come home to Malaysia, according to a survey of 2,013 responses conducted by the Edge, the figure is slightly lower, with 8.8% indicating that they do not want the vaccine, while 11.8% were on the fence, and the rest (about 79.4%) wanting the vaccine (The Edge Markets, accessed on 21 March 2021).

That’s a pretty high acceptance rate, but depending on the sample selection, the result of the survey might be bias. But still, it’s not high enough. Take measles for an example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to vaccinated. If we’re benchmarking against that standard, there’s still a long way to go before we can get herd immunity against COVID-19.

So the question arises – to mandate vaccines or not?

Mandatory vs voluntarily vaccines?

I’m also a tad hesitant on whether to take the vaccines or not. I’m all for vaccines, but I don’t want to be forced to get the vaccine. I want to properly educated on what the vaccine is and all the possible side effects before taking it.

By mandating people to get the vaccine, you’ll definitely get pushback, and the pushback can be far worse prior to mandating it in the first place.

“What exactly are you so happy about?’ Harry asked her. ‘Oh Harry, don’t you see?’ Hermione breathed. ‘If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

So much still unknown

The COVID-19 vaccine has gone from zero to hero in less than a year. We need these vaccines to go back to normal, there’s no denying it. But the last thing we need is for something to go wrong, which would give the anti-vaccine groups more ammunition. One slip, and it will be the end of vaccine trust.

So far, there have been cases of people dying after taking the COVID-19 vaccine*, though none of these deaths have been linked directly to the COVID-19 vaccine as of yet. But of course, as more people (we’re talking billions!) take the vaccine, the greater the chances we end up with some people with negative reactions. It doesn’t necessary mean that the vaccines aren’t safe, it’s just a risk/reward trade-off.

By forcing the vaccine into people’s bodies, you’re clearly indicating that the good of the many outweighs the needs of the few. So why not choose to educate instead, and get people to accept the vaccines by themselves?

*Read here for the compilation of deaths by DW News after taking the vaccine around the world.

FYI – DW News is a global English-language news and information programme from German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW).

So, how to gain vaccine acceptance?

Better education on the vaccine

Education is always important. People want to know how these vaccines work, and how safe these vaccines are. An important nuance is what is meant by “safe” and how this is actually perceived by the public. The public often assumes that “safe” implies no side effects at all. Hence, outlining the risks and benefits from the start is important.

From my view, I feel that the government is not doing enough to actively promote both the benefits and risks of the vaccine. Or maybe I have just been oblivious to it.

Read also: Carbon Dioxide Sensors and COVID-19

When I’m doing my errands driving around town, I don’t recall hearing of any promotion of the vaccine over the radio. Nor do I see the major news outlets actively promoting the vaccine. Yes it comes on occasionally, but the focus is still mainly on politics, the ever changing SOPs, people breaking the SOPs and the number of cases for the day, and that has to change.

There is a need for the vaccine to be continuously and actively promoted in an easily understood and non-condescending way to the public. Otherwise, people will not get convinced to get the vaccine, or get swayed by conspiracy theories.

Better education on what is a negative side effect

A lot of people complain that they get the flu after their flu shot, and usually that’s the reason why people don’t get the shot again the following year. Feeling off the weather for a day or two is not a severe reaction, it’s the immune system way of working. It’s a small price to pay to keep you away from fever, cough, hospitalisation or worse.

So, please understand that if you have some flu symptoms or a sore arm after taking the vaccine, it’s normal.

Better transparency

In Malaysia, to those that have registered for the vaccine, clear communication by the authorities is still currently very lacking – in relaying to the people about the date and venue of the vaccine jabs, and the contact point for enquires in each district.

I understand that it’s been a long time since we’ve handled a healthcare crisis of such a scale, but it has been over a year since COVID first started, perhaps it’s time to get the gears running smoother, or maybe we can take a leaf out of countries like Israel or the United Arab Emirates?

Statistics - COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people
Statistics – COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people

Should we be given the choice to choose our vaccine?

We have a number of vaccines in the market now. But sadly, we, the beneficiaries can’t select the vaccine of our choice now.

First there’s the issue of supply and demand. The current supply is scarce as compared to the demand of the vaccine. Almost every country is snapping up any supply of vaccines that are available now. But as time passes, and demand slows, will we then get to choose the vaccine of our choice? Probably, but it doesn’t seem to be in the horizon as of yet.

Read also: 2021 – The New Normal, Now Normal?

Furthermore, as more people use the vaccines only will the side effects be known and more conclusive, if ever any. Different people will have different reactions to different types of vaccines. After all, the different brands have used different approaches* to develop their vaccines, and the effectiveness is still not conclusively known to the mutant COVID-19 strains. So, people should be given the choice, and not forcing the next available vaccine into their body.

*The differences lie in whether these companies have used a whole virus or bacterium, or just parts of it, or just the genetic material that provides the instructions for making specific proteins and the whole virus.

The next best step

Ultimately, if you still can’t choose which vaccine you’d get or taking the vaccine has been mandated by your government / employer, you still can do your own due diligence before you taking it.

Go do that medical checkup that you’ve been postponing for so long. Understand your body a little better, and read up the vaccines available in your country. Check to see whether do you need to take into account additional considerations when taking the vaccine, or do not qualify entirely for the vaccine because of your current underlying medical conditions.

Choose to make an informed decision instead.

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