A recurring conversation I have been having these past days has been about the pros and cons of vaccination passports. I wish that there was a clear ethical response to the discussion, but like many difficult conversations, there may be many different shades of grey, but no clear white and black answers, to a situation that not only affects the lives of individuals but has the capacity to shape who we are as a people, both culturally and socially. I share that thought with you because I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with me, but I do have an expectation that you will consider this dilemma carefully and prayerfully because of the impact it may have on our culture and, it is during these times of ethical controversies that Christians have an obligation to provide ethical leadership to a world that is sorely lacking in principled guidance.
The debate is quite simple on the surface. Those who are opposed to vaccination passports believe it is a violation of people’s fundamental human rights. They are probably correct. No modern democracy has the right to inflict mandatory medical procedures on its population, including vaccinations. Those who believe vaccination passports are a good idea, argue that in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its variations, we need the entire population vaccinated, not only so people do not contract the disease, but do not spread it to others. To me, that is the crux of the debate.
I firmly support people who do not want to be vaccinated and are willing to take the risk of contracting the disease and accepting the possible outcomes of death or permanent chronic side effects. I don’t support their right to infect me with a disease, that I clearly do not want, and since the vaccination is not 100% effective in preventing the contracting of COVID, our level of safety increases in proportion to how many people get vaccinated.
I will be frank. I don’t want to sit next to someone on a plane, in a movie theatre, or in church who is not vaccinated. I believe that our collective right to live and work in a safe environment is greater than someone else’s individual right to not be vaccinated. I’m sorry, but that means that there will be some aspects of society where those not fully vaccinated, will not be able to participate. It is their right not to get vaccinated, and it is OUR right to live in a safe environment.
It wasn’t so many years ago, that we were having a similar discussions about the rights of smokers and those who didn’t want to wear seat belts. It took many years, but eventually we came to the realization that people’s right to have a smoke free environment is more important than an individual right to smoke.
A person who I am extremely close to, had parents where the dad smoked and the mom didn’t. Sadly, in his sixties, the father died of lung cancer. And tragically about ten years later, the mother contracted throat cancer, which the doctors attributed to second hand smoke, and died a year later. It seems to me that the mom’s right to clean air superseded the dad’s right to smoke, and clearly, he should have smoked outside. It was a different era then and the discussion of an individual’s privilege to smoke versus the rights of others to breathe clean air was ongoing for many years but at the end of the day, the consensus was that individuals did not have the right to exercise their privileges if it impinged on another’s right to clean air.
We already know that Canadians who want to travel outside the country not only must have a regular passport but will also need proof of vaccination and those wanting to enter Canada from abroad will need the same proof. This means that there is a precedent. I know it will feel weird having to show my vaccination passport to go to a concert, a theatre production or ride a bus. It may mean that some Canadians are denied the right to fully participate in communal aspects of our life. But I believe that the safety of all, is more important than individual rights when it comes to our health.
Wherever you stand on this topic, I would ask you to consider the ramifications of the continuing transmission of the virus in our communities. One of the most important aspects is that as long as people who are not vaccinated continue to fall ill, they put an unwarranted strain on an already fragile health care system. This means that our hospital beds and ICUs are not available for people who need treatment or surgery for chronic or life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, joint replacement or heart failure. A secondary consideration is that while the pandemic still affects those unvaccinated individuals in our country and around the globe, the virus has an opportunity to mutate into new variations which our current vaccinations may be ineffective against. This means that none of us are “safe” until the entire world is vaccinated, perhaps at the expense of the developed world.
I am a big proponent of individual rights and believe they are the bedrock of a healthy democratic society and are supported by our understanding of scripture and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. But I also believe there are times when the health and safety of the community are more important. Now, is the time, to prayerfully consider our response to this dilemma and respond in love.