Taxing the unvaxxed? Hmm

Since Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that his government will either fine or impose a tax on those who refuse to be vaccinated, the idea has found favour with a number of editorialists and persons who want to prevent the unvaxxed from putting the rest of us in jeopardy by spreading the virus.

So far it seems that Mr Legault’s “vax tax incentive” have hit the mark, at least for the time being, because soon after, over 7,000 of holdout unvaxxed took the jab. Bravo, said the editorialist, “turn the screws” said the opinionators. After all these are in unusual times, so we should not worry about stepping on the slippery slope to authoritarianism; this is a “once-in-a-century pandemic emergency”.

Amid the din, there are some quiet voices that urge caution, reason, a balanced approach, and an open mind in pondering vaccines, vaccine efficacy, etc. Some are ready to entertain other tactics including and beyond vaccines in dealing with COVID-19 epidemic.

The foregoing is but a thumbnail description of what we see out there. While no particular position is taken on the idea of “to vax or not to vax”, it does seem that the firm position people are taking about the need to penalize those who refuse to be vaccinated, need a little bit of nuance, if only to allow for some sober reflection.

A few weeks ago an ABC News article titled “Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster”, written by Associated Press reporters Maria Cheng and Farai Mutsaka, included this paragraph: “But there is something “mysterious” going on in Africa that is puzzling scientists, said Wafaa El-Sadr, chair of global health at Columbia University. Africa doesn’t have the vaccines and the resources to fight COVID-19 that they have in Europe and the U.S., but somehow they seem to be doing better,” she said. In fact, only around 6 percent of Africans are vaccinated.

No doubt there are many reasons why this may be so, including luck, but this is the type of information that could bring nuance and reason, and limit the polarization that the Legault approach has engendered.

As to stepping on slippery slopes, a recent New York Time (NYT) article entitled “The New New World” by correspondent Li Yuan, may be instructive. It speaks of “The army of millions who enforce China’s zero-Covid policy, at all costs.” It goes on: “China’s “zero Covid” policy has a dedicated following: the millions of people who work diligently toward that goal, no matter the human costs.”

China has instituted severe lockdowns in cities that show any sign of a COVID infection. The NYT article goes on to say: “China’s early success in containing the pandemic through iron-fist, authoritarian policies emboldened its officials, seemingly giving them license to act with conviction and righteousness.” And the ruthlessness with which the “community watches” enforce the policy has appalled Chinese intellectuals at the willingness of ordinary folk to enforce the draconian measures.

Among a number of examples of COVID enforcement, this one should set us thinking about what lies at the base of that slope: a young man left his home during the lockdown to find food; he had not eaten in a long time. The security guards beat him up. Another young man was made to read a letter criticizing his own behavior in front of a video camera. The letter ended thus: “I didn’t take into account the serious consequences my behavior could bring to the community.”

Ah, our editorialists would argue that this time it’s a “once-in-a-century pandemic emergency.” And when this passes, we, like the decent Canadians we are will return to our normal selves.

Maybe. But remember that many ordinary folk in other countries tasted the power of enforcing society’s rules and many of them liked the feel of it. They too claimed it was a once in a lifetime emergency. Some never quite recovered their democratic balance.