A major issue has been found in Premier Daniel Andrews’ plan to keep unvaccinated Victorians locked out of freedoms “for the entirety” of 2022.
The revelation that unvaccinated Victorians could be locked out of key freedoms until 2023 has sparked major controversy, with one expert explaining the big issue with the plan.
While Victoria is planning on dropping almost all of its Covid restrictions when the state hits its 90 per cent double dose vaccination target, Premier Daniel Andrews has warned unvaccinated residents will be barred from extra freedoms “for the entirety of 2022”.
“Whether it’s a bookshop, a shoe shop, a pub, cafe, a restaurant, the MCG, the list goes on and on,” Mr Andrews said last month.
“You will not be able to participate like a fully vaccinated person because you’re not a fully vaccinated person.”
The 90 per cent double dose vaccination target is now expected to be reached on November 18. In comparison, unvaccinated NSW residents are set to be given the same freedoms as fully vaccinated people from December 1.
The decision in Victoria has been a controversial one, with Director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre at ACU, Dr David Kirchhoffer, claiming the situation presented an ethical problem.
Writing in The Conversation, Dr Kirchhoffer said there was little doubt vaccination against Covid-19 is the “proportionate and morally good thing to do”, but said excluding unvaccinated people until 2023 was not justified.
“Despite the clear reasons for why one ought to get vaccinated, it’s conceivable a person has other objections to vaccination (apart from medical reasons that would make vaccination a bad idea for them),” he said.
“So, the question arises about what kinds of force, especially by states, are morally acceptable. “When do the limitations on a person’s freedom of movement or association go too far, morally speaking?”
Dr Kirchhoffer said the answer to this question is continually changing and really depends on the current situation with Covid and what we know about the virus and vaccines.
Under the current circumstances, excluding unvaccinated people from freedoms such as non-essential retail “is not morally justifiable”, he said, particularly given the contradiction of allowing access at the 80 per cent vaccination target but then taking it away at the 90 per cent target.
Victorians were granted a raft of new freedoms on Friday, October 28, with a loophole meaning retail stores opened to all residents, regardless of their vaccination status.
However, Covid-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar warned these freedoms would be short lived, likening the rules to a “grace period”.
Once the state hits the 90 per cent vaccine target this month, unvaccinated residents will be locked out of non-essential retail until the end of 2022.
Dr Kirchhoffer said the risk allowing unvaccinated people access to non-essential retail would actually pose to vaccinated residents and the healthcare system.
He said, while vaccines have been proven to reduce the risk of infection and severe illness, the Delta variant can still transmit even among vaccinated people.
Research from the UK, published in The Lancet on October 29, found vaccinated people who caught the Delta strain posed a similar risk of transmitting it to their household as unvaccinated people.
Dr Kirchhoffer also pointed to a recent Dutch study, which is yet to be independently verified, that suggested vaccinated people aren’t more at risk of contracting the virus from a person just because they are unvaccinated.
He said that, while both studies measure spread of the virus within households and not retail settings, “one would expect that because households tend to include longer and closer exposure, the rates of transmission would be lower still in retail spaces”.
“Nevertheless, these studies suggest that the risk of contracting the virus is primarily borne by the unvaccinated person,” Dr Kirchhoffer added.
“According to the Dutch study, the unvaccinated person is twice as likely as a vaccinated person to contract the disease from another unvaccinated person, than from a vaccinated person. And, as has been well-established, unvaccinated people are at higher risk of severe disease or death.
“In other words, vaccinated people in a restaurant or shop don’t seem to have anything more to fear from an unvaccinated person than a vaccinated person.”
Dr Kirchhoffer did note that the potential burden of unvaccinated people who get Covid could place on Victoria’s healthcare system was another factor.
However, at 90 per cent fully vaccinated, this needed to be weighed against the “risks of social division and stigma” along with the burden on young and often low-paid retail and hospitality workers to police the vaccination status of customers.
He said it was still morally acceptable to require vaccinations in high-risk settings such as health and aged care, but in settings where the risk is primarily on the unvaccinated person, blocking their access to things like non-essential retail “goes too far”.
“If vaccination rates were very low, or the disease more deadly, such measures could be necessary. But this seems unnecessary at a rate of 90 per cent vaccination expected soon in Victoria,” Dr Kirchhoffer concluded.
“That said, those who choose not to get vaccinated still have a moral obligation to take other precautions against contracting or transmitting the virus, such as wearing masks, social distancing, checking in, staying home if they’re unwell, and getting tested.
“To not do so would be to act in a morally irresponsible way.”