Coronavirus

When Singling Out The Unvaccinated Is OK

Lockdowns can be justified on an ethical basis to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve.

When Singling Out The Unvaccinated Is OK

A man shows proof of his COVID-19 vaccination in St Petersburg

Jonathan Pugh, Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu

COVID is surging in some European countries. In response, Austria and Russia are planning to reimpose lockdowns, but only for the unvaccinated. Is this ethical?

Some countries already have vaccine passport schemes to travel or enter certain public spaces. The passports treat those who have had vaccines – or have evidence of recent infection – differently from those who have not had a vaccine. But the proposed selective lockdowns would radically increase the scope of restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Lockdowns can be ethically justified where they are necessary and proportionate to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve.

Benefits vs costs

One benefit of a lockdown is that it can prevent a country's healthcare system – especially hospitals – from becoming overwhelmed. If that is the aim, though, there is little need to lock down people at low risk of being hospitalised, such as those who have received a COVID vaccine. But we might also exclude from lockdown young people (even if unvaccinated) who are at low risk of severe COVID (a recent Moscow lockdown took this approach). So this aim would only support a selective lockdown targeted at the unvaccinated elderly or the medically vulnerable, or both.

Alternatively, the primary aim of a lockdown may be to stop the virus from spreading. Since the young and old pose similar risks of onward transmission, this would not support an age-selective lockdown. Yet a lockdown justified on this basis perhaps also should not distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. That is because vaccines reduce but do not eliminate transmission. The aim of reducing transmission might only support a lockdown of the entire population. And it is not clear that the benefit would be proportionate to the cost of such a lockdown.

There are unavoidable ethical trade-offs in our response to a resurgence of the pandemic

A quite different justification for both vaccine passports and selective lockdowns for the unvaccinated is that they might encourage people to have the vaccine. Indeed, John Swinney, deputy first minister of Scotland, claimed that the goal of the Scottish vaccine passport schemes was to increase vaccine uptake.

Clearly, if the goal of new lockdown restrictions is to get people to have the vaccine, it should only apply to those who have not yet been vaccinated. However, this is ethically dubious. Restricting individual liberty just to make someone act in a particular way often amounts to coercion.

When the stakes are high, it may sometimes be justifiable to impose some degree of coercive pressure to achieve public health goals, for example, to prevent harm to others. But the costs to individual autonomy are considerable, so coercive pressure can only be justified if it is necessary to achieve very valuable goals.

Other methods of increasing vaccine uptake without encroaching on individual liberty, such as education campaigns and the use of incentives, would be ethically preferable.

During the seven-day lockdown in Moscow, at the end of October 2021

Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/ZUMA

Inequality, freedom and COVID deaths

A common objection to vaccine passport schemes, which may also apply to selective lockdowns, is that they treat people unequally. For that reason, some people might be happy with locking down the whole population, but not a particular group – such as the unvaccinated or the unvaccinated elderly.

However, unequal treatment isn't always unjustified. Even if selective lockdowns treat people differently, this is not necessarily discrimination. We have previously suggested that in responding to this pandemic, we face a trilemma between liberty, equality and COVID deaths. Selective lockdowns are an illustration of this kind of choice. There are unavoidable ethical trade-offs in our response to a resurgence of the pandemic – we need to decide which ethical values we will prioritise, and which we compromise.

In areas where the virus is spiking, we can reduce COVID deaths and treat people equally by imposing a general lockdown, but that would involve a substantial cost to liberty. One that Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg isn't willing to take. Defending his country's selective lockdown, he said: "I don't see why two-thirds should lose their freedom because one-third is dithering."

Alternatively, we could treat people equally and not restrict anyone's liberty. That might put healthcare systems at risk and lead to more deaths.

So selective lockdowns could be justified to prevent a health system from being overwhelmed. They may be unequal, but the alternatives are also unpalatable.The Conversation

Jonathan Pugh, Research Fellow in Applied Moral Philosophy, University of Oxford; Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Ethics, University of Oxford, and Julian Savulescu, Visiting Professor in Biomedical Ethics, Murdoch Children's Research Institute; Distinguished Visiting Professor in Law, University of Melbourne; Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

​✅ SIGN UP

This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ