Monday, 15 March 2021

Free Press, 15 March 2021

We remember

Free Press would like to acknowledge the 51 victims of our nation’s tragedy in Christchurch, and their families who lost them. The tragedy should remind us to focus on our common humanity, not divide people into groups. Each person has inherent dignity, and we should never let any collective ideology or fad override it.

What does vaccine mean?

Whether the Government will be successful in distributing the vaccine is an open question. We want them to succeed but there are reasons to be skeptical; remember the measles fiasco?

A more urgent problem is telling New Zealanders what a vaccine will mean. This week Free Press asks, what will being vaccinated allow you to do, or not? Who will decide, your employer, the airline, the school principal, or good old Bloomy?

There are so many questions.

How will you verify that you’ve been vaccinated? Is there a difference between having had the jab and your body actually giving the immune response? What happens if new variants of the virus change the answers to these questions?

This year, the Beehive website has added 15 press releases about the Government’s response to COVID 19. Of those, 10 are about vaccination, the rest are about testing and miscellaneous matters.

The big problem is that none of those releases talk about how policy will change in a post-vaccine world. We have only a vague notion that vaccination will somehow be good but no clear picture of what will actually change. As usual the Government is keeping mum.

If the Government has a plan, we deserve to know about it. People are trying to plan their lives and businesses. If the Government doesn’t have a plan then, in a democratic society, we have a right to know that too.

At this point it’s probably worth pointing out that Free Press has always been and always will be a pro-vax publication. Vaccination is one of the greatest technologies in human history. We are not seeking to embolden anti-vaxxers, or their rebranded ilk the ‘vaccine hesitant.’

We worry they are being emboldened by the Government’s failure to paint a picture of what vaccination will mean. If the Government needs public confidence about vaccination, it would help for the Government to show some, too. The Prime Minister’s messaging that it’s good we’re at the back of the queue because, you know, we’ll learn lessons from others, was cack-handed and no doubt promoted hesitancy.

The Government needs to answer questions about what it thinks New Zealand will look like when, say, 80 per cent of people are vaccinated.

What will be the implications for employment law? Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, will staff of a PCBU who are at risk of infection need to be vaccinated? Who is at fault if they’re not? Does an employee have a right to refuse? Can a prospective employer ask if you’ve been vaccinated, if it’s relevant to the job at, say, an airport?

What about schools? Principals are a PCBU. Will their obligation to enroll and provide education to an eligible student trump their obligation to protect other students from infection if the student is not resistant to COVID-19?

Then there’s travel. Under foreign jurisdiction, will New Zealanders be issued a vaccine passport valid for overseas travel? Is the Government talking to foreign governments about this on our behalf? Will foreign travelers be able to come here if they can show resistance?

Then there’s the Alert Level system. Will it be varied to say people who are vaccinated/immune face fewer restrictions at each level? The Israelis have a similar policy. Will we?

None of this matter if you cannot prove you are vaccinated. Here’s the question: Will there be a certificate, paper or digital, issued to show you are vaccinated? Actually, that may not be the question. It is possible to have had the jab but not have the immune response it is designed to invoke.

Perhaps there should be a separate test of immunity. There are Kiwi businesses who have these tests, and claim certifying people have been vaccinated rather than whether people are immune is grossly irresponsible. Certifying immunity might be less politically difficult than certifying a medical procedure, besides.

So many questions. If the Government wants people to take up the vaccine, then it needs to start answering all of these questions under the central question. What will the vaccine mean?