Home Features Whose fundamental right must Government safeguard?
More than 340,000 adult Guyanese (66% of the adult population) have taken one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 33% of the Guyanese adults are fully vaccinated. But there are significant pools of Guyanese citizens who, for one unreasonable reason or another, have refused to take the vaccine.
Those who have taken the vaccine understand that the vaccine not only protects them, but also that it protects the collective Guyanese population and helps in stopping the emergence of any new variant. Those who refuse the vaccine claim that it is their bodies, and they have a fundamental right to determine what they put into their bodies. In effect, those anti-vaxxers claim that their individual right is absolute, and cannot be abrogated under any circumstance.
President Irfaan Ali and the PPP Government posit that these anti-vaxxers are wrong, and that all fundamental rights are based on certain limits, the most important of which is that the exercise of any individual right must not interfere with the rights of others. The PNC-led-and-dominated APNU/AFC is of the opposite view, siding with the anti-vaxxers that rights are absolute. All the leaders in the PNC and APNU/AFC have taken the vaccine, but they are out mobilising those who have not taken the vaccine to protest and ask people to shut down the country. The claim is that the Government, by demanding people become vaccinated or submit to weekly PCR testing, violates the fundamental rights of these citizens. But what about the rights of those who have taken their vaccines? The question before us is whose rights must be rigorously adhered to, and whose rights can be abrogated?
A Canadian professor raised a number of rights perspectives when a student claimed the university’s requirement for vaccination breaches his fundamental right. The professor, in short, laid out the right to travel freely. One needs a passport before he or she can travel from one country to another. Students cannot show up to classes naked, even though they have a right whether to dress or not to dress. Everyone has a right to be given an A in a course, but whether he or she will have an A depends entirely on whether they can satisfy certain conditions to the satisfaction of the professor. Everyone has a right to drive, but needs a licence from the Government, and licensed drivers can choose what speed they want to drive, but must adhere to speed laws. One’s desire to drive at 90 MPH can only be exercised in a place approved for such speeds. Rights are not absolute.
In order for safe socialisation or engagement in everyday economic activities, each of us has an obligation to demonstrate none of us constitute a danger to the public. Police officers remove people who misbehave in public. One cannot show up at the parliament’s gates and decide it is a good place to urinate. It is the obligation of Government to ensure public safety.
At the moment, the best science says that people must wear masks, be vaccinated against COVID-19, or be tested with a negative PCR result. The Government has adapted this science for public participation. A small number of persons are demanding that they be allowed to disregard these Government-mandated rules.
The PNC has decided to use this opportunity to mobilise protests around the country. Teachers are being mobilised through a PNC-led union – the Guyana Teachers Union. The nurses and other health workers are being organised by the GPSU. The PNC, having failed to gain any traction with their stupefied claim of electoral heist by the PPP, now seizes on the opportunity presented to them by persons refusing the vaccine. This is reckless, irresponsible, and frankly criminal behaviour. The lives of innocent citizens have become collateral damage. Not only are the protestors endangering their own lives, they also endanger the lives of those citizens who have taken the vaccine. One protestor wants to know if the vaccine protects, then how is it the anti-vaxxers are placing anybody’s life in danger? The answer is simple – no vaccine is 100% guaranteed, and leaves a small opportunity for the virus to get through the defense people use. But, at the end of the day, more than 98% of all infections, all ICU admissions and all deaths are among those unvaccinated.
One person on Facebook puts it nicely – going to school does not guarantee anyone he or say would not be a dunce, but people all over the world regard education as a fundamental right.
Our constitution asserts the rights of all citizens to safety. It is one reason why seat belts are required for occupants of a vehicle, or why helmets are required in certain work spaces. It is the reason why, other than security personnel, no one is allowed to carry weapons in the parliament or on a plane. Similarly, the Government must use all means whatsoever to ensure opportunities for spreading COVID-19 are limited.
Science says the more people are vaccinated, the safer the environment. In fact, Sweden has now removed all public health measures, such as masking, from the requirement to be in public, because more than 80% of the citizens of that country are fully vaccinated. As a country, we have an obligation to protect the rights of those citizens who have taken their vaccines.