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COVID-19, Vaccinations, and Politics

The Isocracy Network is dedicated to "liberty and common wealth". We take these principles seriously, that is the equal distribution of individual liberty, both positive and negative, in all its variation and diversity, is established within a commonwealth of democratic management of the productive forces of land and capital. On every possible occasion members of the Isocracy Network have argued for rights of individual self-ownership, even if the actions are destructive to the self. Indeed it is the very first item of "Our Ten Point Plan"; let this repeated in case there is any doubt:

Personal Liberty. Self-ownership, full and exclusive right and responsibility over oneself for adults of adult-reasoning, and by extension, consensus in participation. As John Locke famously wrote, "every man has a Property in his own Person." We are advocates of free speech, within the limits of defamation etc, following Rosa Luxemburg's "Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden", ("Freedom is always the freedom for dissenters"), and even includes "destructive" rights (e.g., voluntary euthanasia), as long as third party expert assessment declares the individual as being compos mentis [2].

But what are the limits to this principle individual liberty? This is typically established pragmatically, that liberties are limited to the degree that they directly and physically affect others. As noted, this should exclude all self-regarding actions and other-regarding actions, albeit with some due diligence to ensure that the actors are of sane and responsible minds. But it also means that there are democratically-decided rules - and restrictive rules - for to the "free movement" of individuals in public areas in proportion to the danger involved (e.g., road traffic rules). But to what degree do we restrict individuals where there is contagious outbreak? And do not individuals have the right to refuse vaccinations, something that is very much a self-referential intrusive medical procedure? To what degree to parents, for example, have a right or responsibility over their children?

COVID-19 and Public Health

The debate has these issues been ongoing for many years, but has gained new importance. At the time of writing, there are just over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19, which has resulted in approximately 120,000 deaths. The numbers increase on the daily rate and do not yet show enough signs of abating; we're in this for the long haul. With statistics being collected and compiled daily [3], informed comparisons can be made on demographics and the effectiveness of different public policies. Expressed simply, we have a very good idea of what works and what doesn't work when it comes to the management of individuals and groups, and that these policies have support among conservative and liberal policy bodies. Compare, for example, the similarity in recommendations in the United States between the normally centre-right American Enterprise Institute and the centre-left Center for American Progress [5].

It is clear that public testing for COVID-19 is required, along with rapid contact tracing for those determined to be infected. In general, those countries with a relatively low number of TPM (tests per million), but a relatively higher CCPM (Confirmed Cases per Million) are in a world of pain, as it shows that the virus is significantly more widespread than their confirmed case numbers suggest. On April 6 the following example numbers could be given Hong Kong (12,900 TPM high, 119 CCPM, low), Australia (11,653 TPM high, 223 CCPM, low), Italy (11,436 TPM high, 2,133 CCPM, high), Germany (10,962 TPM high, 1,195 CCPM, high), the United Kingdom (2,880 TPM low, 704 CCPM medium-high), the United States (5,312 TPM medium, 1,011 CCPM high).

What we now call social distancing policies have also proven to be very effective in reducing the rate of infection and their effectiveness has been known since antiquity, a graduated quarantine which protects the public from the infected, with or without symptoms. It is clear that if restrictions on freedom of movement are imposed, the spread of COVID-19 slows down, and where it is lacking the spread increases. Italy provides a stark example of this; from February 21-23 the daily increases were 567%, 295% and 90%. As restrictions were put in place in the following week new cases from Feb 29 to March 4 were 27%, 50%, 20%, 23% and 23%, and from April 11-13 3%, 3% and 2%. It is an example that has been replicated throughout the world; social distancing policies work, and the stronger they are adhered to or enforced, the more effective they are.

Isolation and Vaccines

None of this is surprising to any who have been attentive to the numbers, or live in countries with public officials sane enough to implement policies that work. There are some who have argued that as the rate of new infections declines then restrictions on movement ought to be relaxed [5], but the epidemiology is clear; relax the restrictions and infection rates will go up again. The problem for public bodies is knowing that the greater the absolute number of infections, the greater the number who will be in a severe or critical state, requiring intensive care. Given that there is a time lag in the production of intensive care units, when the number of patients requiring intensive care exceeds the available resources, fatailities rapidly increase.

At the moment many governments have adopted a "stay-at-home" strategy, even with all its attendant economic damage (especially unemployment), increases in domestic violence, and health costs due to lack of exercise, and the propensity to turn to drugs and alcohol etc. An alternative, whether by design (Sweden, UK) or accident (US) has been to let COVID-19 spread "at a manageable rate", meaning that a percentage (mainly the elderly) will die, a percentage will experience it but recover, and eventually a herd immunity will develop [6]. Apart from effectively condemning a catastrophic number of people to their death, we are still not entirely sure whether people can re-infected with COVID-19 after recovery, and nor are we sure that herd immunity will work without a vaccine [7]. Whilst significant effort has been put into developing a vaccine treatment, it will not be available for general use for at least another year [8] - assuming one is developed at all.

We must be prepared for the possibility of a world without a vaccine or cure. Whilst a great deal of money is being poured in to find a vaccine, and there is an equal amount of confidence and hope, there is no guarantee. There are already four coronaviruses in circulation, which we usually refer to (non-exclusively) as the common cold, and we don't have vaccines for any of them [9]. As long as we stay in isolation fewer people will die. But people will want a return to the outside world, a sense of what life was like BC ("Before COVID-19") and there will be demands on authorities to loosen the restrictions. As they are loosened, the number of cases, confirmed and unconfirmed will go up, as will the fatalities, and the pressure will come back to re-impose restrictions. And so the cycle will continue until there is a vaccine or cure. Our society will change, forever, as it fluctuates between being half-complacent and half-paranoid.

Political and Personal Irresponsibility

The situation has not been helped by various world leaders that have been ineffectual or dangerous in the face of this pandemic. The US President, Donald Trump, has been shown himself to be perhaps the worst president in that country's history changing his story from saying it was all under control on January 22, 30, February 23, 29, and then on March 17 saying that he felt it was pandemic long before the WHO declared it as such [10]. After that he started hyping the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, well before sufficient clinical trials and without mentioning the significant risks [11]. The most recently he's tried to turn attention to the supposed failures of the World Health Organisation by defunding it [12]; this from a person who was saying that everything was under control throughout January and February. Meanwhile, the the United States has charged ahead in the number of confirmed cases, making up over 30% of the world's cased on April 15; a month previous it was under 2%. Whether he really is trying to maliciously shift blame or just doesn't know what he is doing is subject to debate: Any Sufficiently Advanced Neglect is Indistinguishable from Malice [13]

For those leaders who have taken people's lives seriously there is a stark difference. The aforementioned restrictions on movement have been introduced in graduated steps, depending on infection rates and the response of the public. High infection rates and poor public response to appeals to self-isolate results in more stringent rules being enforced, and as much as one may wish to allow for individual freedoms, there is a strong difference when it comes to infectious diseases between personal space and public space. The same can said for the public health investments; whilst a bit of an edge-case in global considerations, the actions of the government of Victoria in Australia is worthy of mention - announcing the funding of an additional 4,000 IC beds, etc, increasing the number available tenfold, creating a situation where it will have twice-and-half times as many current IC beds as the rest of Australia, combined [14]. Too much? It comes down, as always, to opportunity costs. What things are we prepared to go without in order to save lives?

Which has also been a remarkable lesson in class politics. All of a sudden, grocery workers, front-line health workers, emergency services, cleaners etc are considered to be "essential workers", as if they never were. It is the advertising executives and financial advisers that remove value from society, not the lowly paid [15], and any public health expenditures can come from economic rents that are currently acquired by many billionaires [16]. A comment must also be made about the global situation as well; COVID-19 in less developed countries is likely to be devastating as such countries lack the health infrastructure to test the population or care for the sick. Such countries that have a relatively high population density and significant disparities of wealth are going to be particularly hard-hit; Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, India - all candidates for serious instances, with the wave of fatalities in Africa grimly waiting in the wings.

Political and personal responsibilities will also have a major role to play if, and when, a vaccine or cure is found. As has been wryly joked towards the anti-vaccination movement, this is what the world looks like when we are lacking in one vaccine. Now imagine if they had their way and there was no protection against smallpox, polio, rabies, etc. Anti-vaccinators erroneously claim that improvements in sanitation etc are the real cause of the decline of such diseases. It is simply not true; as important as sanitary infrastructure is, the incidence of diseases is much strongly related to the prevalence of vaccination, rather the development of the infrastructure. As a result, in low-vaccinated areas, infectious diseases make a re-appearance. There is also concern of "vaccine injury", and it is true that some suffer side-effects and people have even died from an allergic reaction to a vaccine. But the number who have such bad side effects is far less than the number of fatalities that would occur without vaccines. The same will apply if a COVID-19 vaccination is developed.

Political Rights and Vaccinations

But even with astounding scientific illiteracy should not people be allowed to refuse medical treatment? The answer must be strongly to the affirmative, for the right of a person to control their own body is a foundation of a just society. But only to the extent that their decision cannot affect others. In other words, a willingly unvaccinated person only has the right to their personal space and not to public space. Within public space the community must decide what freedom of movement can and should exist. It is therefore plausible to imagine a community of inspired individuals all of whom decide to reject any and all vaccinations. Such a group must isolate themselves entirely from other communities who do not share their beliefs. But there is also the issue of their children: One side will say that the parents are the ultimate guardians and the decision of the parent regarding vaccination is their choice. The other will say that the health interests of the child must come first and that not vaccinating a child would be negligence. Fortunately, in most cases, there is a middle point where a high-level of herd immunity already exists and policies of education, public restrictions ("no jab, no play") and the sort are sufficient. For non-fatal infections, legal avenues for children who have become adults to sue their parents could also be made available. But where there is an epidemic, parental rights of guardianship must be secondary to the child's health. No child should suffer because of a parent's ideology.

Finally, again assuming that there is a gradual lifting of restrictions as a vaccine or cure becomes available, it is imperative that emergency powers of governance that have been invoked during this time are likewise lifted. Legal observers have noted that when authoritarian legislation is put into place "temporarily", it has a nasty habit of becoming permanent. The laws on terrorism following September 11, 2001 have acquired a degree of permanence, except for those that have explicit sunset clauses [17]. In order for a liberal society to protect itself, as authoritarians will always seek to acquire more authority over the lives of others, sunset clauses in COVID-19 inspired legislation on public movement must also be included. Special circumstances may certainly require actions that, under normal circumstances, would be considered unacceptable. But if we allow the power for unacceptable behaviour under normal circumstances, then our society has lost the freedom and liberties that should belong to all.

References

[1] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/
[2] http://isocracy.org/plan
[3] https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/, sources based on international media updates https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#news
[4] https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/national-coronavirus-respon...
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2020/04/03/48261...
[5] https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/coronavirus-exp...
[6] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-19/what-is-herd-immunity-and-could-i...
[7] https://www.sciencealert.com/why-herd-immunity-will-not-save-us-from-the...
[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/when-will-we-have-a-corona...
[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51665497
[10] https://www.factcheck.org/2020/03/trumps-statements-about-the-coronavirus/
[11] https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/hydroxychloroquine-hype-i...
[12] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-15/trump-halts-who-funding-coronavir...
[13] http://www.afutureworththinkingabout.com/?p=5442
[14] https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/huge-expansion-of-our-health-system-to-fi...
[15] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/dec/14/new-economics-foundatio...
[16] See: https://evonomics.com/they-dont-just-hide-their-money-economist-says-bil...
https://michael-hudson.com/2016/10/rentier-capitalism-veblen-in-the-21st...
[17] https://www.nswccl.org.au/2018_john_marsden_lecture_sacrificing_civil_li...

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