Skip to main content

Covid vaccine coercion 'counter-productive', immunity from natural exposure lasts longer

By Bhaskaran Raman* 

Most parts of India have faced two significant waves of Covid-19. Some places, such as Mumbai have been praised for its management of hospital resources, and rightly so. The current focus is on Covid-19 vaccination. While data from different parts of the world shows that the vaccines reduce risk of disease severity, an unsavoury aspect of the vaccine administration policy concerns coercion of citizens for vaccination.
For instance, Mumbai local train, the “lifeline of Mumbai”, has been made conditional on vaccination, and so has entry to various places such as malls. Aurangabad has made fuel purchase conditional on vaccination. 
Various work places have also issued coercive notices. Such extreme coercion may “work” in the short term, but will erode public trust in the long run. We argue here that such coercion is not only wrong, but lacks any scientific basis.
The obvious question we can begin with is: if there is an effective vaccine for a deadly disease, then why coerce? After all, Covid-19 has been at the centre of people’s attention not only in India but around the world. And most people have been eagerly awaiting a vaccine.
The ostensible argument for vaccine coercion is: “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, and universal vaccination will “eradicate” the virus. But this stance is unscientific for three main reasons.
First, all the current Covid-19 vaccines are non-sterilizing. While there is individual benefit, especially among old and susceptible, in terms disease severity reduction, even those vaccinated can get infected and can transmit the virus.
Data from around the world shows this. For example, Singapore’s Covid surge started after about 75% of its population was fully vaccinated. As another stark example, Waterford city in Ireland had over 99.7% of its adults fully vaccinated as of the last week September 2021, yet had the highest incidence of Covid in Ireland by the second week of October.
The UK’s weekly reports show that vaccine efficacy against infection has been declining steadily; currently the rate of infection among fully vaccinated is much more than that among unvaccinated in all age groups above 30. The vaccine efficacy against infection touched as low as minus 109% for the 40-49 age group! Israel is currently facing its highest Covid peaks yet, despite approving as many as four jabs for each citizen!
If the vaccinated can also get infected and transmit the virus, then individual benefit of vaccination does not translate to societal benefit; so what is the rationale for coercion?
Second, the vast majority of people have already been exposed to the virus in India’s first two waves. Sero-surveys have shown that as high as 80% of Mumbai’s citizens, and over 90% of Delhi’s citizens have been naturally exposed.
Furthermore, pre-pandemic science as well as recent research show consistently that immunity from natural exposure is strong and long lasting. For instance, a large cohort study involving over 17,000 health-care workers in the UK showed not a single instance of symptomatic reinfection.
Even within Mumbai, it is well known that the 2nd wave was largely absent from the slums, which had widespread natural exposure in 2020. Therefore, those who have had natural exposure are extremely safe people to be around!
If the vast majority of people are already at much less chance to get infected or transmit compared to the vaccinated, then what the rationale for vaccine coercion?
Third, the goal of “zero-Covid” is a pipe-dream. Even if we can magically vaccinate every adult and child within a day, the virus will continue to thrive since the vaccines are non-sterilizing.
The SARS-Cov-2 virus also has other species as host, and thus eradicating the virus is a scientific impossibility. The disease will enter endemic phase and the virus will keep circulating, although with negligible severity compared to the pandemic phase.
If even universal vaccination cannot achieve zero-Covid, then what is the rationale for vaccine coercion?
Vaccination should focus on hitherto unexposed susceptible people; coercive methods should stop
To summarize, each of the assumptions behind vaccine coercion: (1) vaccines prevent or stop spread of Covid-19, (2) natural immunity is weak, and (3) zero-Covid is possible, are scientifically flawed.
The current Covid-19 vaccines have a positive role for old, susceptible, and hitherto unexposed individuals, to reduce disease severity. At the same time, while vaccine adverse effects may be rare, they are not nil.
The UK’s yellow card system has reported adverse events at the rate of about 1 in 106 doses for the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield). Changes to women’s menstrual cycle have been reported too. Blood clotting from the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine is rare but can be devastating, causing even death in rare cases.
Therefore, there must be a risk-reward analysis: each individual must be free to decide his/her health risks and medical decisions, without any pressure or coercion.
Much trust has been lost due to lack of scientific rationale for vaccine coercion. Recently, in the Mumbai high court, the state of Maharashtra had to cut a sorry figure, forced to state that they do not even have the minutes of the meeting, where the vaccine requirement for travel by Mumbai local train was decided. Honest admissions are overdue to rebuild lost trust.
The assumptions of societal benefit behind vaccine coercion do not hold any water on close examination. Coercion erodes trust which will take years to rebuild. Discrimination based on vaccine status also divides society.
Do we really want a society where we view each other as unclean, especially when there is no scientific basis for this? Certain not. Therefore coercion and mandates must stop with immediate effect; they have no role in public health.
---
*Faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Views expressed are personal

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen