We live in a sad time where too much is cast in the extremes of being wonderful or evil. Too many current debates are based upon the bad idea that everything is binary: people are Remain or Leave; people want or oppose lockdowns; people support or oppose vaccine passports.
Outside political ultras, mainstream people can see that there are various costs and benefits that need to be weighed up. There are some good parts to Brexit, there are some bad parts. There are some good parts to lockdowns, there are some bad parts. There are some good parts of vaccine passports, and there are some bad parts.
In coming weeks, months and years, there will be conversations about “vaccine passports”. The Isle of Man Government’s website currently says “We have no plans to introduce immunity passports following this vaccination programme,” and the Isle of Man Government has repeatedly downplayed the idea.
Instead of silly and short-sighted head-in-the-sand comments dismissing a vaccine passport, a measured and considered approach would recognise that there are two separate issues here: the idea that people should be able to have a way to prove they have (or haven’t) been vaccinated against COVID-19, and the separate idea of who should be allowed to evaluate such a status.
For example, the Government has already publicly said that they would assist people who need proof of vaccination to fly on certain airlines, or for entry into a country which demanded such evidence. It seems weird for the Isle of Man Government to support the requirements of foreign countries and foreign companies, if it did not also support the requirements of local companies or local people who wanted similar documentation.
For example, it is possible to imagine an elderly care home which provided care to people with damaged immune systems to require that visitors be vaccinated. Similarly, a person living in Douglas who is undergoing chemotherapy and is both vulnerable to the virus, and unable to be vaccinated, might want to establish that a tradesman is vaccinated before allowing them into their home. In such cases, it is plainly reasonable for the residents to demand proof of vaccination: lives are literally at stake.
There are other, easy to imagine, circumstances where it might be reasonable to impose vaccination requirements: an elderly care home might want to require it for their staff, the intensive care unit at the hospital might want to require for their staff, or for visitors. Similarly, a tea house in Laxey might want to run a special post-lockdown event aimed at welcoming elderly or vulnerable back to their venue – and might have a reasonable requirement that everyone attending be vaccinated.
In each of those cases, it is possible to imagine reasonable arguments in favour of a vaccination requirement, and reasonable arguments against a vaccination requirement. Where we draw the line should certainly be subject to debate. The line might even be drawn in ways that are not immediately obvious: It is possible to imagine, for example, to allow the tea house to impose the requirement (private business, no one has an absolute right to drink tea there) but not require it in the intensive care unit (it is a Government operation funded by all taxpayers, would you really deny someone the ability to see a dying family-member because they had not been vaccinated?).
We do, of course, have an analogous concept already in our community: proof of age. In some circumstances, people of certain ages are prohibited from certain services. This happens obviously in the case of alcohol sales, but also with some elderly residential services. In 1919, the voting age in the Isle of Man was set to 21. In 1971 it was changed to 18, and in 2006, the voting age lowered again to 16. This shows that such delineations can change of time to reflect the views of the community. Outside a few special areas (voting; drinking; tobacco; driving; guns; etc) though, we generally prohibit discrimination on the basis of age.
It is possible to imagine a similar situation for vaccinations: some areas of life where vaccinations are required, some areas where it is optional for people to require vaccination, and some areas where it is forbidden for people to require vaccination.
The point here is that these are tough questions to answer. I certainly do not know what the answer should be – but they should be debated and discussed in an open and transparent manner, rather than nine grey men making a decision in secret and being declared to the public without debate.