Then again, sometimes he does. Which is why Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent vow to jail anyone refusing a Covid vaccination raised lots of eyebrows, including mine.
“There is a national emergency,” the President said in a televised address reported by Associated Press and other news outlets. “If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and inject the vaccine in your butt.”
Duterte said that he would order barangay officials to compile lists of those refusing to comply. “If you will not agree to be vaccinated,” he urged, “leave the Philippines.” His suggested destinations: India or the USA.
Philippine legal scholars and civil rights attorneys were quick to point out that their country harbors no laws requiring its citizens to get vaccinated. “I believe that the President merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra inferred.
But Duterte’s characteristically blunt assertions raised a specter that many worldwide are already vigorously debating: whether it’s legal, appropriate, moral, or even necessary for governments to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations on those reluctant to get jabbed.
Make no mistake; my perspective is that, in most cases, vaccinations are efficient and desirable. Which is why both my wife and I allowed our arms to be punctured; she with Pfizer and me with Moderna. But should governments, employers and other powerful entities force unwilling subjects to roll up their sleeves?
In all honesty, the question leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, of course, it’s in everybody’s interest that as many of us as possible stay well. On the other, assuming the vaccine protects most of its recipients as advertised, what right do they have to then dictate the level of risk that others may choose to accept?
The question is more than theoretical in the United States where many colleges and universities have recently imposed vaccinations on would-be students as a condition of their returning to class. This despite the fact that several global studies show an increased risk of serious heart inflammations—both myocarditis and pericarditis—for vaccinated young men under 30. And yet that same group, vaccinated or not, is among those least likely to contract or spread COVID-19.
“We clearly have an imbalance here,” Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, deputy director of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Safety Office, recently told NBC.
The obvious implication: that any imposition of a vaccination requirement ought to, at the very least, follow a thorough and honest analysis of cost vs. benefit.
One group of Americans, seemingly in a position to analyze both, recently decided that the cost was too high. They are the 153 employees of a Houston hospital—including nurses and other medical staff—who got fired or resigned rather than obey their employer’s order to get vaccinated.
“Patients are always first and that’s what it’s always been,” a hospital spokesperson assured the Los Angeles Times.
But one now-jobless labor and delivery nurse said she would willingly repeat her sacrifice. “We want to stand up, not just for ourselves, but for others who are facing this or could face it,” she said. “It’s about much more than a job: It’s about my body, that I should have the choice of what gets put in it.”
All of which reminds me of a dystopian movie I recently saw depicting life after a fictional 2024 pandemic ravages the world and its cities. In this futuristic film—called “Songbird”—virtually everyone on earth gets permanently locked down save a privileged few graced with yellow bracelets identifying them as “immune.” Everyone else must undergo daily health scans. And if one of them detects a virus “anomaly,” well, only minutes pass before a squad of scowling strangers in spacesuits arrives to take you away.
Not that different, now that I think of it, from being quarantined in the Philippines.
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David Haldane’s latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is available on Amazon. a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.