Vaccine Passports and the Future of Biosecurity
by John Duffy
I think it is fair to open up this essay by first airing some of my personal biases, so as you read through it, all of my cards are on the table. Politically, I don’t have much of a “home team,” but if anything, I would say I lean anarchist. While most people’s politics center on how they think society should be run, mine are more of a list of things that shouldn’t be done. I don’t presume to know what’s best for hundreds of millions of people, so I avoid prescribing suggested edicts on how everyone else must live, but I will happily sit back and talk shit on the edicts others put forth, or worse, successfully impose.
My general rule of thumb is to err on the side of personal freedom, and to always be very critical of state power (and also the power of capital, but that is a topic for another day).
After 9-11, with the passing of the PATRIOT act and what would later be revealed about NSA warrantless wiretapping by Edward Snowden, we had a clear picture of the US Government’s strategy to confront not just terrorist attacks, but terrorism itself. At the time, civil liberties activists were sounding the alarm about government overreach, and how we must not be willing to cede our privacy and basic rights for some imagined security. Supporters of the Bush Administration and the wider security state suggested that “freedom wasn’t free,” and that we all must be willing to make sacrifices if we were to be safe.
Anyone anywhere could be a terrorist and you wouldn’t necessarily know it. They wouldn’t necessarily be showing any outward signs of their hidden intent. So if your bank account, your library habits, your emails or phone calls, if they didn’t contain evidence of terrorism or links to terrorism, then you had nothing to worry about if the government wanted to take a little peak. It was only the guilty who should fear encroachment of their privacy.
Never mind that terrorism is a tactic, that it can be picked up and put down by any person at any time, and therefore it could never, ever be wiped from the Earth. Zero-terrorism globally was a preposterous conceit, and now twenty years later, it’s abundantly obvious that “terrorists” couldn’t even be routed from Afghanistan, which is now firmly in the hands of the Taliban once again.
As we push towards the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a creeping biosecurity state apparatus that is demanding we all give up a little freedom, a little privacy, to make sure that everyone can stay safe. Vaccine “passports” and requirements are becoming more and more prevalent in both the public and private sector around the United States and the world. Every day there is news about a new city demanding that people be vaccinated before they enter into indoor spaces such as restaurants, bars, or gyms. Every day another company or wing of the government announces that all of its employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19, regardless of whether or not an individual was previously infected with the virus. University Students as well, are being told that despite their exceedingly low risk of harm or death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they must be vaccinated if they are to return to campus.
What is not being stated, or much less publicly debated, is the overarching goal of such mandates and restrictions. What is the target outcome that we as a society are trying to achieve? What started as “two weeks to flatten the curve,” which was a slogan aimed at convincing us that it was worth all hunkering down at home for two weeks to avoid overwhelming our regional hospitals, has now morphed into what is clearly a foolhardy attempt to achieve zero-COVID. For what else could be the goal of trying to force every man, woman, and soon – child, into taking a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2?
This whole situation brings to mind several ethical questions and contradictions, and the first one I would like to address is what I believe to be a false premise that has underlied much of the policy and behavior we have witnessed over the last eighteen months; that a person is responsible for passing COVID-19. This is an idea that needs to be stamped out right now. Never before did we consider people responsible for passing on seasonal illnesses. Hell, there were even legal findings against state laws that tried hold people responsible for knowingly having HIV or AIDS and then knowingly exposing another individual to it.
We need to drill down on this for a moment. Viruses, while they exist in a quasi-living realm, are under their own motility. They replicate on their own. They breach host cells on their own. I do not choose to infect a person merely by breathing. A microscopic packet of self replicating RNA that can hijack my cells against my will, copy itself, and then abandon ship for the next host, is not something I need to take moral or legal responsibility for, and suggesting that I do, is very, very dangerous territory indeed. The virus is an entity unto itself, that exists outside of our conscious control.
Now, is it courteous when people take precautions when they know they have a communicable disease? Certainly! If I know that I currently have COVID-19, or influenza, or a common rotavirus, it is certainly decent of me to isolate at home until I recover. And frankly, most people do this not only out of common decency, but because when we are ill, we feel like shit and lying in our beds asleep is the only place we want to be. There is an alignment of our personal desire to recover and the steps that prevent contagion. But if I know I have the flu, and I need to go to the drug store for some Aspirin or even to the porno shop for a Hustler, there is an assumption of the risk on the part of everyone else in that particular pharmacy or smut hut that by being out in public around other human beings, the possibility of getting sick exists.
Oddly, during the whole COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility that the virus could spread asymptomatically led to the idea that everyone should consider themselves a potential spreader at all times. Despite the fact that even a person with the virus will only be contagious for say, two weeks, we have all been now made to consider ourselves always infectious. How long could such a state go on? The longer the pandemic last, the more absurd this position becomes. If the pandemic is a six month affair, considering yourself always a potential threat to others relative to the two weeks you could actually be shedding virus, as uncomfortable as it may feel, is a lot less cock-a-maimy than presuming yourself infectious for two, or five, or ten years.
Eighteen months into this bizzaro world, even the vaccinated and previously infected are asked to continue going about life as if they may be unwittingly shedding viral particles, and a moral imperative has been unfairly hoisted upon everyone, that they are to consider themselves responsible for the actions of an invisible virus as if spreading it were intentional, or even, largely avoidable. For if we can truly have the virus and not know it, and spread it even when we haven’t yet or maybe never will feel a single symptom, shouldn’t that be an argument against attaching responsibility to spread? Doubly so in light of the fact that even vaccinated individuals can both acquire and spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If a person has taken every possible step to be conscious of others short of giving up on a life of human contact, and they still can readily transmit SARS-CoV-2, isn’t attaching moral culpability to this transmission absurd?
Trying to demonize people for having had the audacity to be a biological entity comprised of cells vulnerable to a circulating pathogen is not only unconscionable, but it also is opening the door to an apartheid society of not only vaccinated and unvaccinated, but also the infected versus the healthy (a position that itself transmutes as one becomes the other). There has been commentary and Twitter tirades aplenty in which people cast aspersions at others for having had the gaul, and the downright deviousness to have given them or their family member the illness. Again, this all rises from the totally unfounded idea that there was anything we could do once the virus was unleashed on humans (likely by other humans studying it in Wuhan, IMHO) and a certain number of infections had occurred. A world of Zero-COVID could very well have been impossible as far back as December 2019, and now that roughly one third of the human population has been exposed to the virus (according to the estimate Epidemiologist John P. Ioannidis gave to me) it is certainly a laughable idea. For the foreseeable future, SARS-CoV-2 will be endemic to humanity. The good news, is that even though the vaccines cannot prevent infection, they seem to be helping a lot in turning COVID-19 into a very mild and manageable illness. Despite the Delta variant, hospitalizations with severe COVID-19 and death from COVID-19 are way down from where they once were
Insofar as the vaccine is concerned, forcing people to put into their body a pharmaceutical product that they do not want, to me, is reprehensible. I absolutely think people who are at high risk of severe illness should take the vaccine, but I think they should do so with free and informed consent. I even think middle-aged people who have not yet had COVID-19 should get vaccinated against it, because the risk of adverse event from the vaccine is lower than the risk of severe disease.
Young people are much trickier. Their risk of severe disease and death is so low, that we seem to be as a society transposing onto them the risk an elderly person faces from SARS-CoV-2 in the form of an adverse vaccine event. It’s one thing if a healthy twenty year old chooses this, it is entirely another if we threaten to force them off a college campus in order to push them into compliance with an act that is intended not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of an unknown other.
Are the vaccines perfect? No. Do I hope they improve with time? Of course! I also hope treatment protocols continue to improve to the point that even an unvaccinated person who comes down with serious COVID-19 is given a simple drug course and they are back to normal life the next day. But until that time comes, we cannot be so myopically focused on one virus, one potential cause of death out of so many, that we are willing to reshape not only how our society functions at the infrastructural level, but at the moral and ethical level. We are and will always be biological entities that suffer the scourge of pathogens. This is not our fault. None of us wants this, is hoping for this, or is trying to make the situation worse. The logical path we are beginning to walk will allow all manner of new control over our lives be justified. We must be very careful about what precedents we set.
For instance, I could complain that your poor diet, your lack of exercise, your obesity all make you a more likely host for a pathogen. Your lowered state of baseline health makes you far more likely to pass illness on to others, therefore I could argue that it is now incumbent upon the state to control your life to improve your basic metabolic markers, or to keep you out of public life until such time. Immunocompromised people become laboratories for viruses like SARS-CoV-2 to experiment and become more virulent within. Should we thus give the state more power to command and control the lives of the immunocompromised? Should the immunocompromised be forcibly shut off from society because they pose a greater risk as a living petri-dish for viral mutation? Should they be banned from airplanes because they cannot receive vaccines?
And of course, all of these suggestions mean that we would be creating new agencies and authorities within the government to set all of the health standards, to enforce them, and to contract out all of the technological enforcement mechanisms. What will happen when tech firms get the billion dollar contracts to make vaccination tracking apps for people’s smart phones? Do you think they will be satisfied when the COVID-19 pandemic is a memory, or do you think they will find other health threats that can be monitored with their software? Will they pack up their offices and find other places to work, or will they sick swarms of lobbyists on the congresspeople of America, demanding that the next influenza, or zika, or ebola also come under state, and thus their own, purview?
We already know the architects of the Great Reset want to see everyone eat less meat to supposedly save the planet. Will our meat purchases be logged and tracked? Will we face increased healthcare premiums if we go over three ounces of beef per week? What other habits might those in power feel are worth keeping a digital dossier on? How many sexual partners we have, and who they are? (Slutty folk might be spreading more disease!) What bars, stores, and friends we visit? (Pre-cog contact tracing saves time and LIVES!)
I know this all sounds nuts. It is nuts. But if you could time travel to July of 2019 and tell yourself that in one year, your business would have been closed, you couldn’t go to a gym, that restaurants got rid of menus, that a toddler wouldn’t be allowed on an airplane if they didn’t wear a face mask, that Australian citizens would be trapped in their homes by troops marching in their streets, that no one could travel to New Zealand, etc. etc. etc. you likely wouldn’t believe any of it!
In times of crisis, principles run in short supply. Supposed fiscal conservatives brought us wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that cost trillions of dollars. These “liberty minded” people told us that if we weren’t terrorists, we wouldn’t mind letting the government listen in on all of our communications, that if you were a good little citizen, you had nothing to fear. The certainly didn’t give a shit about imprisoning people in black sites, holding them without charge or trial, and torturing them just for funzies. Now we have supposed advocates of bodily autonomy telling us we must allow Moderna or Pfizer access to our very cells, and that if we were decent people, force wouldn’t be necessary. These proponents of “my body, my choice,” who prize autonomy even when a fetus’s life is cut short, now demand you line up for a shot while wearing a mask because maybe, somewhere, an old person might die if a virus that briefly lives in you, moves on to another person, and then another person, and then to the victim. They certainly don’t give a shit about closing the vice all around you, making it impossible to effectively live if the choice you make isn’t the one they like.
It is exactly the hardest of times that demand we act upon our principles. Standing strong in your ethics is not hard when they are not being challenged! Anyone can say, “Fight back against bullies!” when they are standing alone in a field. It’s much more difficult when you accidentally stumble upon three guys beating up on a much weaker fourth. When you might join this stranger in receiving a heavy ass-whomping, your anti-bully sentiments begin to carry some risk. What kind of person you actually are, the strength of your conscience and convictions are actually tested. The state knows this. So do big pharmaceutical corporations. Is it scary when people are dying and the news, ever motivated by clicks and drug company ad buys won’t let you forget about it? Yes. And that is precisely the time you must look yourself in the mirror, reaffirm what exactly it is you believe in, and stand up for it.