Coronavirus; Pandemic; Ethics; Public Health

Video Interview: Is Vaccine Nationalism Justified?

High income countries have been criticised for hoarding covid-19 vaccines: they have been accused of ‘vaccine nationalism’. But what exactly is vaccine nationalism? Is it really wrong to prioritise one’s own citizens, and, if so, why? How can we do better when the next pandemic strikes? In this Thinking Out Loud interview, philosopher Dr Jonathan Pugh (Oxford) discusses these questions with Dr Katrien Devolder (philosopher, and producer of the Thinking Out Loud interview series).

Video Interview: Julian Savulescu on the Selective Restriction of Liberty During the Pandemic

Many people accept that, to protect public health, it is sometimes acceptable, or morally obligatory, to restrict people’s liberties. But there’s a lot of disagreement about how far these restrictions should go, and whom they should apply to: everyone, or certain groups of people only? In this Thinking out Loud interview, Professor Julian Savulescu (Uehiro Chair of Practical Ethics, University of Oxford) defends the view that we should only restrict the liberties of those vulnerable to COVID-19. (Interview and editing by Katrien Devolder, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.)

What is a party?

By Alberto Giubilini

 

There seems to be some confusion these days around what exactly a party is. The Sue Gray report updates on the alleged (i.e. actual) parties at No.10 during lockdowns cast doubts on our certainties.

For what is a party? Intriguing question, for those into philosophy. You start by thinking you know the answer and you end up confused. For example, it is obvious that not all after work drinks at the pub are parties. But what if you have a beer with your comrades in the office? Or a birthday cake appears during after work drinks? All of a sudden we feel less certain. Maybe the drinks have turned into a party at some point.

This is a rather pleasurable exercise, as long as it doesn’t affect everyday communications. It doesn’t really matter.

Except that, all of a sudden, it does. It’s partygate time.

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Cross Post: Is This the End of the Road for Vaccine Mandates in Healthcare?

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, Alberto Giubilini, and Julian Savulescu

The UK government recently announced a dramatic U-turn on the COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, originally scheduled to take effect on April 1 2022. Health or social care staff will no longer need to provide proof of vaccination to stay employed. The reason, as health secretary Sajid Javid made clear, is that “it is no longer proportionate”.

There are several reasons why it was the right decision at this point to scrap the mandate. Most notably, omicron causes less severe disease than other coronavirus variants; many healthcare workers have already had the virus (potentially giving them immunity equivalent to the vaccine); vaccines are not as effective at preventing re-infection and transmission of omicron; and less restrictive alternatives are available (such as personal protective equipment and lateral flow testing of staff). Continue reading

Cross Post: Vaccine Mandates For Healthcare Workers Should Be Scrapped – Omicron Has Changed The Game

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, Jonathan Pugh and Julian Savulescu

Time is running out for National Health Service staff in England who have not had a COVID vaccine. Doctors and nurses have until Thursday, February 3, to have their first jab. If they don’t, they will not be fully immunised by the beginning of April and could be dismissed.

But there are reports this week that the UK government is debating whether to postpone the COVID vaccine mandate for healthcare staff. Would that be the right thing to do?

Vaccine requirements are controversial and have led to worldwide protests. Those in favour have argued that it is necessary and proportionate to protect vulnerable patients by making vaccination a condition of employment for healthcare staff. But critics have argued that vaccine mandates amount to a violation of human rights. Continue reading

Cross Post: Why the UK Shouldn’t Introduce Mandatory COVID Vaccination

Written by Julian Savulescu, Dominic Wilkinson, and Jonathan Pugh

As coronavirus infections surge across Europe, and with the threat of the omicron variant looming, countries are imposing increasingly stringent pandemic controls.

In Austria, citizens will be subject to a vaccine mandate in February. In Greece, meanwhile, a vaccine mandate will apply to those 60 and over, starting in mid-January.

Both mandates allow medical exemptions, and the Greek mandate allows exemptions for those who have recently recovered from COVID.

Other countries, including Germany, may soon follow suit, and the European Commission has raised the need to discuss an EU vaccine mandate. In contrast, the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, has been clear that the UK will not consider a general mandatory vaccination policy. Continue reading

Omicron Travel Restrictions Are Not Ethically Justified

Written by: Alberto Giubilini, Julian Savulescu

*A version of this blogpost appears as an article in the Spectator*

 

Governments are at it again. It has become an involuntary reflex. A few days after South Africa sequenced and identified the new Omicron variant, England placed some South African countries back in the ‘red list’. Quarantine has been imposed on all incoming passengers until they show evidence of a negative test. Some European countries banned incoming flights from that region. Switzerland introduced quarantine for passengers arriving from the UK, but also banned all the unvaccinated passengers from the UK from entering the country. The domino effect we have seen so many times during this pandemic has kicked in again.

Is closing borders ethical? We don’t think so. At the beginning of the pandemic, border closures were, arguably, too little too late. Angela Merkel sealed off Germany’s borders in March 2020 less than a week after having declared that, in the name of solidarity, EU countries should not isolate themselves from one another, as the situation was out of control and extremely uncertain. The UK was also criticized for closing borders and locking down too late. In fact, countries that closed borders relatively early, such as Australia and New Zealand, fared better in terms of keeping the virus at bay.

However, we are at a very different stage of the pandemic now.  The disease is endemic, vaccination has been introduced, and we have treatments available. Why do we think the same measures that might have been appropriate in March 2020 are the best response in this very different context?

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Cross Post: Omicron: Better To Be Safe (And Quick) Than Sorry

Written by: Dominic Wilkinson, and Jonathan Pugh

On discovering the omicron variant, many countries moved quickly to impose travel restrictions and other public health measures, such as compulsory mask wearing. But, given the lack of data, is this the best course of action?

These measures have tangible costs, and some have argued that they are an over-reaction. Critics of the travel ban claim that new measures will not significantly prevent the spread of the variant. Indeed, World Health Organization (WHO) officials have urged countries not to hastily impose travel curbs, instead advocating a risk analysis and science-based approach. Continue reading

Event Summary: Vaccine Policies and Challenge Trials: The Ethics of Relative Risk in Public Health

St Cross Special Ethics Seminar, Presented by Dr Sarah Chan, 18 November 2021

In this St Cross Special Ethics Seminar, Dr Sarah Chan explores three key areas of risk in ‘challenge trials’ – the deliberate infection of human participants to infectious agents as a tool for vaccine development and improving our knowledge of disease biology.  Dr Chan explores a) whether some forms of challenge trials cannot be ethically justified; b) why stratifying populations for vaccine allocation by risk profile can result in unjust risk distribution; and c) how comparing these cases and the evaluation of relative risk reveals flaws in approach to pandemic public health.


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Cross Post: Selective lockdowns can be ethically justifiable – here’s why

Written by: Jonathan Pugh, Dominic Wilkinson, and Julian Savulescu

 

COVID is surging in some European countries. In response, Austria and Russia are planning to reimpose lockdowns, but only for the unvaccinated. Is this ethical?

Some countries already have vaccine passport schemes to travel or enter certain public spaces. The passports treat those who have had vaccines – or have evidence of recent infection – differently from those who have not had a vaccine. But the proposed selective lockdowns would radically increase the scope of restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Lockdowns can be ethically justified where they are necessary and proportionate to achieve an important public health benefit, even though they restrict individual freedoms. Whether selective lockdowns are justified, though, depends on what they are intended to achieve. Continue reading

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