COVID-19 vaccination: The State, The Church and MeThursday, April 08, 2021
BY OLUWADAMILOLA AJAYI
Andrew Holness, Jamaica's prime minister, tweeted as soon as there is a safe, tested COVID-19 vaccine, the Government will ensure it is available for free to all citizens. Beautiful as it might have sounded, we need to probe the issue of acceptability of that vaccine by citizens, as it has arrived now.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted proper social, economic, academic, religious, and personal functioning, and there is need to be proactive in extensive planning, deliberations, and consultations by the stakeholders to ensure wider acceptability of vaccinations and a return to normal lives. This will be important path to eradicate this pandemic in the country.
It is very clear that not all people support the idea of taking vaccines and would not want to take one , even when it is mandated by the Government. This is because there are different views about the rightness or wrongness of vaccines.
These different perspectives cut across the State health policies, religious doctrines, and personal values. They are in conflict with each other, which will pose a huge challenge to remarkable and timely eradication of the virus in the country. We would like to assess and ascertain the viable route for wider or overall vaccination of Jamaicans from ethical perspectives.
The tweet of the prime minister, as mentioned earlier, emphasises 'free' vaccine for all, which means the Government approaches the fight against COVID-19 from the utilitarian perspective. That is, the Government feels it's a good act, because it aims to provide vaccines for all the people and this will help keep citizens safe, alive, and purposeful. This action is expected of any reasonable and responsible Government.
Similarly, it is the ultimate responsibility of the Government to protect the basic human rights of the citizens, which include the right to life and the right to security. Here, we mean the security of health of the citizens. For example, Dr Christopher Tufton, minister for health and wellness, was excited to announce the vaccine donation from India to Jamaica recently. Now, it has been delivered, as well as a batch of Government-purchased vaccines, they should help reduce mortality rate and provide a great deal of immunity.
While these purchased vaccines come at a fortune, a COVID-19 patient has the right to refuse administration because of his/her right to self-determination and informed consent, but these rights have exemptions to them in cases of public health emergencies. We may now ask: Is the Government's action right if it overrides patients' right to choose appropriate therapy?
The Christian church is important to the progress of any society. It holds sets of moral codes which align with many states' laws and which are preached to worshippers for adherence. The Church has enormous influence and this helps laws to enjoy more compliance. However, these moral codes, which are in form of doctrine, might work against COVID-19 vaccine acceptability.
For instance, a clergywoman, Apostle Christine McLean, championed the breaching of the Government's COVID-19 regulation in her church service recently. It could be seen in the the social media video with went viral of the woman's arrest and claim that she prioritises divine immunity for herself and her congregation.
It could be argued that a person or group could be exempted from COVID-19 therapy if they refuse it for religious reasons. If the right to refuse therapy is recognised, then we would have group of people who are susceptible to the viral attack and could die. However, these lives are important and it is the ultimate responsibility of the Government to protect all lives. We need to know, religious moral codes or State policies/laws, which one supersedes?
People, as rational beings, need to engage their rights to self-determination to know what is best for them health-wise. This is because there is sometimes distrust towards the State. Hence, citizens are reluctant to accept a potentially genuine health proposal or action. An example, appears in a Loop News item (https://www.loopnewscaribbean.com/content/jamaicans-divided-over-remdesivir). A Jamaican in New York commented in reaction to the initial talk to purchase the drug Remdesivir: “...the Government will spare no effort to sell the Jamaican people”. Individuals' self-interest to choose therapy should be prioritised, but is this action/right cannot pose existential threat to public safety?
There is conflict about values between the State, Church and individuals regarding vaccination. There exist latent, potential, and actual conflict between the three entities about the idea of right and wrong. There should be continuous sensitisation, as well as open deliberation and engagement of various stakeholders in churches, in order to improve wider acceptability of vaccination among the people.
According to Terence Irwin (1985), in Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics, third edition, a State is a better moral educator than an individual, because in it law has the power that compels. Hence, the State has done the needful thing, by encoding a lot of morals into the Disaster Risk Management Act, which it should enforce.
The right to life and the right to security of health are essential for the people's welfare and development of the society, and maintaining these two rights is the primary responsibility of any Government to protect. Therefore, the Government should adjudicate between individual rights of citizens and the public safety and, thereafter, prioritise.
Oluwadamilola Ajayi is a lecturer of philosophy in the Department of Language, Linguistics, and philosophy in Faculty of Humanities and Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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