Covid-19 cases rose by 7% and deaths by 10% over the last week in Europe, as it enters a fourth (or fifth) wave and currently accounts for about two-thirds of infections reported globally. Belgium and the Netherlands, which have fully vaccinated 73-74% of their populations, have the highest new case rates in Western Europe, almost double those of Britain. The fully vaccinated rate is Switzerland is 64%, higher than the USA at 57% but lower than Australia now at 69%.
I drove past the UN Palais de Nations yesterday, which had a crowd of around 2000 anti-vaccination protesters outside it, apparently concerned about loss of “freedom”. The Netherlands has just reimposed a partial lockdown to address the rapidly rising case numbers and Switzerland won’t be far behind if the protestors have their way. I am way more concerned about the potential loss of freedom of association, ability to work and earn money, for students to attend schools and universities, ability to participate in social, sporting and cultural events etc etc than the freedom of a minority to be evidence-averse idiots who incubate the virus to continue to spread it and make life difficult for the vaccinated (who still have a small but non-zero risk of catching Covid from the unvaccinated in which it is spreading like wildfire).
Later this month, Switzerland will be holding its second referendum in less than six months on the Covid-19 law under which the government has made the Covid-19 certificate compulsory since September 13 to access indoor spaces (movie theatres, gyms, restaurants etc). This law was accepted by 60.2% of voters on June 13, and opinion polls indicate it will be accepted again. The Covid certificate has allowed the (intelligent) population to return to an almost normal social life. I’ve gone to the cinema, been training at the gym mask-free, and met up with friends for coffee, lunch or dinner. All at risk if the anti-vax people get more support than before. The proposed revisions to the law also put other covid initiatives at risk. If passed, they would end government financial support for big events and end all government funding programs for the development of drugs or other important medical goods.
I find it impossible to understand or empathize with the anti-vax people who are prioritizing imaginary concerns in the complete absence of evidence over protecting the lives not only of themselves and those they love, but also others in the community. Millions of people have been vaccinated now, and we have a massive amount of data on side effects (rare and rarely severe or fatal) and the side effects of not being vaccinated (substantially higher risks of Covid-19 infection along with risk of long Covid or death). I can only think that it is one of the more appalling outcomes of the increasing partisanship and polarization in high income countries, in which large groups of the population have decided that those with differing political and social views no longer deserve to be considered human, and protection of their lives is of zero value. Fascism, concentration camps and the gulag lie just around that corner also.
While analogies are never perfect, and should not be over-interpreted, I can only think that the situation is analogous to one in which a substantial part of the drinking population decided that their hatred of more moderate drinkers and abstainers was such that they wanted to end drink-driving laws completely and be allowed to drive while drunk. The fact that they would be putting their fellow drinkers and families at risk did not offset the pleasure of seeing the “others” owned.
And any cognitive dissonance was ameliorated by their leaders and social media gurus who assured them that the evidence showing drink driving causes more car accidents is flawed and being pushed by a giant conspiracy involved the medical profession, public health professionals, scientists, news media and governments to take away their freedom to drive drunk.