There’s been some good news on the local vaccine front, with a UQ vaccine project passing safety tests and showing early indications of effectiveness. With so many projects going ahead around the world, it seems likely we will have some usable vaccines by next year. On the other hand, based on past experience with similar diseases like influenza, it seems unlikely that vaccines will be perfectly effective. So, we’ll be living with some kinds of restrictions for the foreseeable future.
The prospect of a vaccine has, unsurprisingly, raised a lot of concern about anti-vaxerism and vaccine hesitancy, not helped by Scott Morrison’s short-lived suggestion that the vaccine should be mandatory. While there has been a fair bit of handwringing on this topic, our experience with varying levels of restrictions means that we have a fairly straightforward solution to the problem.
The characteristic of a pandemic is that everyone poses some level of risk to everyone else with whom they come into contact. Restrictions impose costs but reduce that risk.
The same is true of vaccines. As well as protecting those vaccinated to some extent, vaccines help to reduce the risk that we will infect others. On the other hand, they hurt, they pose a (probably small) risk of side-effects, and even if they aren’t actually dangerous, they are scary.
The crucial implication of this is that restrictions and vaccines are substitutes. A vaccinated person leading a normal, pre-Covid life poses a risk to others that can be matched by an unvaccinated person operating under some of the restrictions we have all experienced so far. Similarly, a vaccinated person who observes the basic restrictions (social distancing, masks, handwashing) might be comparable to an unvaccinated person on Level 2 or Level 3 restrictions (no bars, restaurant dining, large family groups and so on).
Assuming that we can get an expert assessment of the risks, we can make vaccination a matter of personal choice: the vaccine and low-level restrictions, or no vaccine and higher restrictions. Just as with that other highly risky activity, driving, this could be implemented through a license. But of course, starting from scratch, most of us wouldn’t need a physical license – this could be done with a QR code stored on phones, something much simpler than the ill-fated CovidSafe app.
Of course, there will still be objectors, like those who refuse both vaccines and other measures like masks, not to mention unlicensed drivers. But we are already working out how to deal with mask-refusers, border-hoppers and others. Even if compliance isn’t perfect, we will have a solution that works for most.