Mail & Guardian

Are antivaxxer­s’rights being trampled?

Having our rights restricted by the needs of others is nothing new, because we accept that rights come with responsibi­lities

- COMMENT Mias de Klerk Mias de Klerk is professor in leadership and organisati­onal behaviour at the University of Stellenbos­ch Business School, editor-in-chief of the South African Journal of Business Management, and the director at the Centre for Responsi

Many people are unhappy about the possibilit­y of mandatory vaccinatio­n in light of one’s fundamenta­l human right of freedom of choice. There is a storming debate whether requiring vaccinatio­n certificat­es at work or other places amounts to mandatory vaccinatio­n policy and if that is a violation of human rights.

The violation of their human right to freedom of choice is the main argument of antivaxxer­s against any form or suggestion of mandatory vaccinatio­n.

A clear understand­ing of the complexiti­es surroundin­g this issue requires getting out of the emotional and ideologica­l debate on whether mandatory vaccinatio­n is an infringeme­nt of human rights. This can only be done if we comprehend the notion of human rights.

The understand­ing of human rights has its roots in the Universal Declaratio­n of Human Rights (UDHR), proclaimed by the UN in 1948. The main trigger for this declaratio­n was two devastatin­g world wars in which atrocious human rights abuses were committed.

Human rights are rights that everyone has simply because they are human. The UDHR sets out 30 fundamenta­l rights (or articles) that must be protected. These articles include certain rights that are often cited against mandatory vaccinatio­ns. For instance, rights such as “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interferen­ce with his privacy”, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, and “everyone has the right to freedom of thought and conscience” are routinely used, implicitly or explicitly, to proclaim the right to freedom of choice and thus to make a case against mandatory vaccinatio­n.

This protection is especially claimed as these rights are also protected in the South African constituti­on. The Bill of Rights in chapter two of the constituti­on complement­s the UDHR by explicatin­g rights such as “no person may unfairly discrimina­te against anyone”, and, specifical­ly, “everyone has the right to bodily and psychologi­cal integrity, which includes the right to security in and control over their body and not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiment­s without their informed consent”.

Based on these rights, excluding unvaccinat­ed people from work or other places appears to represent a form of discrimina­tion and the arguments against mandatory vaccinatio­n seem convincing.

However, with every right comes accountabi­lity to exercise it responsibl­y, and consequenc­es if one does not. Exercising any right without considerat­ion of the other person and his or her rights is likely to infringe on their rights or be destructiv­e. For instance, one cannot hide behind one’s right to freedom of speech when inappropri­ately slandering someone else.

About 10 years ago, an artist claimed his right to freedom of expression when producing a degrading painting of ex-president Jacob Zuma with exposed genitals. Both these examples can contravene the right of the other because the constituti­on also stipulates that every person has the right to “inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected”.

We are liable to exercise our rights responsibl­y and must be taken to task if we don’t, because the rights of others must also be protected.

The rights declared in the constituti­on and the UDHR are in a fine balance. No right is sacrosanct or more important than another. All rights must be seen and read in combinatio­n with the other rights. Both sets of rights are explicit that none of the rights may be interprete­d by anyone as giving one the “right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destructio­n of any of the rights and freedoms”.

In other words, one may not infringe on someone else’s rights when exercising your rights.

Let’s get back to the mandatory vaccinatio­n debate. Both sets of human rights explicitly note that everyone has the right to life and health. This right must be protected through “lawful, reasonable and fair” administra­tive actions, according to the constituti­on.

Every person thus has the right not to have their health endangered by others who pose an infection risk. Vaccinated individual­s have an inherent human right to have their health protected and thus be protected against future infections.

With evidence confirming that vaccines prevent infections or lessen the severity of the infections in comparison with not being vaccinated, it seems reasonable and fair that unvaccinat­ed individual­s must be kept separate from vaccinated ones, to protect the health of the latter.

Moreover, there is also a right to employment and fair wages. We all know how many people have lost their jobs as the long-term effect of the pandemic ravaged the economy and resulted in the closure of many businesses. In many businesses, employees have lost their right to fair remunerati­on when they were forced to take up to 50% pay cuts.

Protecting the rights to health, life, employment and fair remunerati­on through mandatory vaccinatio­n does not align with accusation­s of being unfair and not adhering to human rights. Rather it appears to be a reasonable duty to fulfil.

Lawful, reasonable and fair administra­tive actions to exercise due control and protection is nothing new or sinister.

For instance, both the UDHR and constituti­on support one’s right to leave a country and to return to this country. However, one has to have a valid passport before you will be allowed to leave or enter a country. In many cases, you also have to obtain a visa to be able to leave your country before you can enter another one.

Every person has the right to decide to apply, or not to apply for a passport. Having a passport is not mandatory, but deciding not to obtain a valid passport has a consequenc­e in that you cannot leave or enter countries without it. To what extent is requiring vaccinatio­ns to enter a workplace or other venue different to having a passport?

If mandatory vaccinatio­ns implied that every person was forced to be vaccinated without any choice, it would have infringed unacceptab­ly on human rights.

However, this is not the meaning or intention of mandatory vaccinatio­ns. Rather, the intention is to enable institutio­ns to exercise their duty to protect stakeholde­rs’ right to life and health by ensuring that every person who enters a specific workplace, event or any other place does not pose an unnecessar­y health risk.

Yes, you have the right not to be vaccinated. However, you have to realise that every right goes with consequenc­es. One consequenc­e might be that you will not be allowed into your workplace, sports events, restaurant­s or other places to protect the right of others not to be infected, and their right to life and health. This does not force you to get vaccinated or infringe your rights, but you are liable to the consequenc­es that ensue from your decision.

Everyone has the right not to be vaccinated, but exercising this right comes with unavoidabl­e consequenc­es.

 ?? Photo: Rodger Bosch/afp ?? Not mandatory: Those who don’t want the Covid-19 vaccine are not being forced to have it, but others have a right not to be endangered by them.
Photo: Rodger Bosch/afp Not mandatory: Those who don’t want the Covid-19 vaccine are not being forced to have it, but others have a right not to be endangered by them.

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