Vaccine policies incompatible with each other | Leung Kai-chi

2021.05.06
Vaccine policies incompatible with each other Leung Kai chi

Requesting all foreign domestic helpers to have a vaccination, the government has invited accusation against it of racial and occupational discrimination. After all, the risk brought about by frequent social gatherings of staffs of multinational enterprises from overseas and professors and students from abroad at universities is not lower than that by foreign domestic helpers. However, the government has not requested them to do so. Actually, the vaccine policies rolled out by the government have been totally incompatible with one another, and various elaborations and requisitions concerning vaccines have been contradicting each other seriously. All of this has been an obstacle to persuading the citizens into getting inoculated.

First and foremost, in support of vaccination against COVID-19, I have already had my second jab. That said, I understand people’s concern for it. So, the vaccine policies adopted by the government should be compatible with each other, and not favor one and discriminate against the other, or else they will invite queries from the public, getting half the result with twice the effort.

The slogan of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program launched by the government is “Protect yourself and others - get vaccinated”. Strictly speaking, “protecting oneself” and “protecting others” are two different things. Getting vaccinated, one will have a memory for the pathogens in his/her body that can respond swiftly to fend off the disease concerned when he/she is in touch of the real pathogens in the days to come, which is “protecting oneself”. From the perspective of the latter, to get vaccinated is for “protecting others” around, and for those in the society who are not able to get inoculated for unfit physical conditions being shielded with herd immunity against the disease, which of course should be encouraged.

From the perspective of public administration, “protecting oneself” and “protecting others” are also two different things. If vaccination affects only individuals, a government can only encourage and induce the citizens to get vaccinated like it exhorts everybody to have less sweet and oily foods. At the end of the day, living a heavier life or not and how much risk one is willing to take is a personal choice not subject to regulation. However, if spillover effect is involved, for instance people forced to take in secondhand smoke by a person smoking in a public place, the reason for a government stepping in to handle it is much stronger. Actually, a large number of public education systems all over the world shut out kids that are not vaccinated, the principle behind which is: while you are allowed to be irresponsible for yourself, the government is entitled to treat you discriminatorily for the sake for protecting others.

According to the current scientific data, vaccine can surely help alleviate patients’ conditions, despite efficacies of vaccines of different types and brands differing from one another. As regards “protecting others”, for the time being, application of BioNTech in foreign countries has shown that the risk of retransmission after vaccination is substantially reduced. Research results of application of Sinovac are to be released by the authorities concerned.

Looking into some measures employed by the government, one will find that obviously they presume that the risk of the vaccinated respreading the virus is relatively lower. The press release by the government concerning vaccination of foreign domestic helpers mentions “protecting oneself, employers’ families and health of others”. Currently the foreign domestic helpers having had two jabs of vaccine 14 days ago are exempted from the mandatory COVID-19 test. All this presumes the vaccinated are less risky to others.

Discriminatory treatment or even putting politics in command

Besides, in the “four-tier classification system for eateries” forced through by the government earlier on, if both the staff and customers of a restaurant are proved to be vaccinated, restrictions of the operation of the restaurant can be relaxed. The difficulty of carrying out this policy aside, the consideration behind is apparently more than “protecting oneself”, and also involves “protecting others”, which implies that staff members and diners vaccinated are believed to be less risky in a restaurant in terms of retransmission.

Here’s the question: Why, in other vaccine policies, does the government have no discriminatory treatment for the vaccinated, and why do they not believe the vaccinated are less risky to others?

All inhabitants in Block 11 of Caribbean Coast were put in a quarantine center for 21 days for a case of local infection of COVID-19 variants was found. Instantaneously, everyone is anxiety-ridden, especially those who did not have a clue where to place their pets. In response to the query why mandatory quarantine is needed for the vaccinated, the government said the operation was based on the concern for COVID-19 variants. Even so, the mandatory test for foreign domestic helpers mentioned above was also put forward upon the concern for virus variants, but the vaccinated were exempted from the test. The latest research has shown that BioNTech is capable of immunizing us against virus variants. Does the government agree to it or not? Can they get their statements in line with one another beforehand?

Now let’s have a look at the travel bubble arranged between Singapore and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government stipulated that all outbound travelers from Hong Kong be vaccinated in advance, while all inbound travelers to Hong Kong are not required to do so. To assess it scientifically, does it mean that the latter have an excellent physique, hence the risk of retransmission of the virus lower? To put it the other way round, if getting vaccinated is a prerequisite for anyone exempted from quarantine, why are those inbound travelers from the mainland not required to do so? Do they reckon the epidemic in mainland China to be under control? But the disease in Taiwan is also curbed! Is it possible to exempt the vaccinated Hongkongers coming back from Taiwan from quarantine? Do this series of policies that are completely incompatible with each other put science or political stances in command?

Comparatively speaking, policies pushed through by the US federal government and EU member countries are way simpler and more straightforward. There are already more than 100 million people having taken a vaccination in the US. The instructions have been updated by the government upon scientific research, stipulating that it is not necessary for the vaccinated to put on a surgical mask outdoors under normal circumstances. As to the EU member countries, they are in intense preparation for allowing foreigners inoculated with vaccines acknowledged by the EU to travel in their countries. Such endeavor concerns themselves with facts, not individuals. Whoever got vaccinated are treated equally, which is an enormous incentive for the rest of the populations to get a jab.

Admittedly, government’s policies in Hong Kong did not turn into nonsensical and self-contradictory ones overnight. It is just that in such a state of chaos caused by messy policies, the government should pay heed to its own problems, rather than blaming the citizens for being not proactive enough to get jabbed.

(Leung Kai-chi, current affairs commentator)

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