Updated: Sep 16, 2021
No one trooped into the streets when the government dangled $10,000 in cash and brand-new cars to lure the vax stragglers to come out, roll up their sleeves and get their jabs. Nonetheless many did come out to try their luck at winning the generous prizes.
But apparently, not everyone was keen on biting the bait. The vax ‘n win initiative didn’t achieve its 80 percent vaccination goal on the target date. That milestone was eventually reached eight days later. And to this day, many are still either procrastinating or deliberately opting out.
In the meantime, the delta variant snuck into Guam, triggering a new wave of Covid-19 transmissions that pushed the island back up to its 2020 peak. The new surge has prompted Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to reinstate restrictions on social gatherings, but this time, they are directed specifically at the unvaccinated.
The carrot didn’t work, so now the governor is wielding the stick.
Only the vaccinated are privileged to “participate in society,” according to the governor’s new mandate that punishes the stubborn lot by barring their entry into private and public facilities.
Not only are violators shamed and ostracized; they also face penalties, between $100 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for the third and succeeding violations. For businesses and nonprofit organizations, failure to comply will result in a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
The idea is to curb the further spread of infections, expedite the full reopening of the Guam economy and return to a degree of normalcy.
While the previous mandates such as masking and distancing may not be politicized on Guam like they are in most states, forcing the vaccine onto people, especially on the vaccine agnostics, is another story. Vaccine skepticism cannot be cured by a forceful mandate; it only furthers their resistance from all indications.
The governor’s vaccine push has created a backlash of discomfort even among some physicians. Vaccination is an intrusive medical procedure that is framed in terms of “medical freedom,” a decision that must be left for an individual to make without being held in duress, according to some doctors who are not on board with the governor’s new policy.
The imposed segregation of the vaccinated and unvaccinated has provoked allegations of tyranny and discrimination. And many, even the pro-vax majority, are not comfortable supporting a vaccinated-versus-unvaccinated landscape.
Treating vaccinated and unvaccinated differently poses a daunting ethical challenge.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world have enforced policies that entail Rousseauian discussions. Syncing individual rights with the exigencies of public health presents a complex situation.
Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that “in order for the general will to be truly general it must come from all and apply to all.” The law, he said, “cannot name particular individuals and it must apply to everyone within the state.” He believed that this condition “will lead citizens, though guided by a consideration of what is in their own private interest, to favor laws that both secure the common interest impartially and that are not burdensome and intrusive.”
We have the right to defend ourselves when the government attempts to trample on our individual rights. But as members of the community, we have a moral obligation to support the goal to protect public health.
However, the governor’s carrot-and-stick approach is apparently not the best way to convince the skeptic minority.
Showering people with prizes — using federal funds that could have been used more prudently — washes away the opportunity to explain why the vaccine is important. Personal safety is the ultimate prize.
A hostile directive is not a better option either. The deployment of SWAT teams to social gatherings to check compliance is truly overkill. Clearly, these official gestures only guarantee civil resistance.
What is lacking here is a better communicated (e.g. clear discussions on what the vaccines can and can't do), evidence-based policy of reasoned justification that will convince everybody that public health and individual rights can coexist during this crisis.