Vaccination: Educate, don’t threaten

By: Salleh Buang (NSTP)

LAST Wednesday, I sent copies of the front page of a local daily to several friends in Alor Star, Penang  and Kuala Lumpur.

The report on the page conveyed a stern warning to the general public that if they refused to be vaccinated, they must be prepared to have their movement severely restricted in the future.

Feeling a little uneasy after reading the report (which continued on page three of the same newspaper), I asked my friends how they felt about it. With one exception, they all replied “it is a threat, there is no doubt about it”. 

An old friend from Penang (but a Kedah Datuk) said: “Yes, if one takes a negative stance. No, if one sees it as an advice of the outcome.” My town planner colleague, Nik Ramly, replied: “Yes, it seems like a threat. But do we have a choice?”

A senior female executive in a telecommunications company in Kuala Lumpur immediately sent me reports of what some countries planned to do in the future. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told a radio interviewer that Britons may have to present evidence of vaccination to enter bars and grocery stores.

His comments earned him a sharp rebuke from several quarters, including Britain’s lawmakers. Denmark, currently under a pandemic lockdown, had indicated that it would introduce a vaccine passport “for travel”, not to enter their own country’s business premises.

Estonia, working together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), intends to create a standardised electronic vaccination certificate. However, according to news portal voanews.com, WHO experts “have withheld recommending vaccine  passports for travel”, fearing a messy and dispute-riddled implementation.

A backlash from “rights and privacy campaigners” is almost certain if these countries go ahead with their vaccine passport proposals. In France, European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune had firmly objected to the vaccine passports.

Britain’s influential daily, The Guardian, stated in its Feb 14 edition (“What are the pros and cons of covid vaccine passports?”)  that the United Kingdom government had ruled out plans for such passports, with Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi calling it “discriminatory”.

A young lawyer who responded to my text message posed the inevitable question: “Can the government make vaccination mandatory?” Some local lawyers think so. According to them, the  government can make immunisation mandatory under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.

Under the  Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021, which had been gazetted and backdated to Jan 21 (the date of the proclamation of emergency),  Section  6 (1) states that: “For so long as the Emergency is in force, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any person authorised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, may appoint, subject to conditions as may be determined, any person to issue directions for treatment, immunisation, isolation, observation or surveillance under paragraphs 11(3)(a) and (b) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.”

The lawyers added that “if immunisation is to be made mandatory, that power already exists under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, Section 11(3)(a). The Emergency Ordinance only expands who can be appointed to give directions under the 1988 Act”.

As for New Zealand, its Bill of Rights Act 1990 clearly states that everyone has the right to refuse medical treatment (which, of course, includes vaccination or immunisation). It is now grappling with the question whether public health concerns can override personal rights.

Last January, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin categorically stated at a conference: “As far as I know, no country has mandated compulsory Covid-19 vaccination by law. We will build on the vaccine confidence through our communication plan, which would then encourage people to willingly get themselves vaccinated after having gone through risk communications.”

I salute the minister for choosing to “educate and persuade” (not “compel”) the general public to get themselves vaccinated. The use of “threats” should never have been contemplated. -SOURCE: NSTP

The writer, a former federal counsel at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, is deputy chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War.

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