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Forcing civil servants to take coronavirus vaccine is unfair

By Leonard Khafafa | August 17th 2021

Public policy analyst Leonard Khafafa.

Last year, Covid-19 spawned new vocabulary. Contact tracing, social distancing, masking and sanitising became the buzzwords in the global attempt to fight the pandemic. But the new disheartening Delta variant has brought on the realisation that the disease will not disappear anytime soon. Vaccination is now being touted as the elixir that will make life bearable, if not eliminate the pandemic altogether.

Yet new and ominous phrases are gaining currency even as the world races to make sure everyone is vaccinated. Words like anti-vaxxers and Covid-19 deniers are being bandied around in an “us versus them” dichotomy; where those hesitant to take the vaccine are passed off as people who don’t believe in science. They reveal humanity’s proclivity to discriminate even on the basis of arrant nonsense.

In Kenya, uptake of Covid-19 vaccines has been low. Reports show that only two in 100 Kenyans have been fully vaccinated. It attributes poor attitudes to, among other reasons, ignorance, myths and disinformation. The government has reacted by making it mandatory for all civil servants to receive the jab. A circular from the Head of Public Service reads, “all civil servants will be prioritised in the ongoing vaccination exercise and that those who will not have been given the first jab by 23rd August 2021 be treated as discipline cases and appropriate action taken against them.”

There is a diversity of thoughts and a spectrum of views, not all of them aligned to this government position. Still, they remain protected by the Constitution as part of citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties. Rather than using strong-arm tactics, the government should engage in large-scale campaigns to persuade people of the benefits of these vaccinations. They should not fall into the bandwagon of shaming those who seek answers to baffling questions by labelling them anti-vaxxers or Covid-19 deniers.

The world is at an unprecedented place. No one has 100 per cent foolproof solutions against the pandemic. Even current vaccinations, though they represent a good chance at fighting the scourge, are not exhaustively proven and can give no guarantee against medium and long-term negative effects. That said, it becomes unconscionable to coerce citizens to take the jab. US Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says that vaccination is a “personal and private decision” and that “no one should be shamed, coerced or mandated to take Covid-19 vaccines that are being allowed under an emergency use authorisation.”

Already, the Jubilee administration has had first-hand experience of the negative consequences of ruling by fiat. The efficacy of past mitigation measures has been hampered by a police service that is only too willing to use brute force. Recently, two brothers from Embu were arrested ostensibly for violating Covid-19 curfews. They died whilst in police custody. Countless others have been beaten and maimed for life under similar circumstances.

Can a government that seemingly turns on its own at the drop of a hat, be trusted with compulsory vaccinations? Will it not provide one more avenue to extort unvaccinated citizens? Certainly, the disconnect between rhetoric and corresponding action points to an administration that is unable to remodel itself to address shifting constituencies. If the politicians that run the government cannot enforce bans on public rallies, themselves super-spreader events, how then can they be expected to make choices for citizens that have potential ramifications on their long-term well-being?

The surest way to totally eliminate Covid-19 risk is to live in glorious isolation. Because the world is now a connected village, that is not an option. All other measures, including vaccines, mitigate the risk. Perhaps the government should consider a mix of these. For instance, proof of vaccination or a negative test result for civil servants and proper enforcement of masking and sanitising for others. Name-calling citizens and straitjacketing civil servants is archaic and retrogressive. It will not purge the scourge.

Mr Khafafa public policy analyst

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