Freedom is an important thing. But the next time a freedom fighter opens up so much that he invites his followers to lynch dissenters and has openly fascist and Nazi views, one should ask himself – is this the freedom we want? Freedom should be something noble, intended for everyone, and not a hysterical appeal to one's own absolute freedom in which no one else is free or protected. And democracy is a very fragile achievement of human civilization and it can easily collapse under the weight of the false “struggle for freedom”, which is just another name for the ultra-right anarchist paradise that is a copy of the totalitarianism we see in “The Handmaid's Tale”. Democracy, like vaccines, can easily become a victim of its own success.
Does mandatory vaccination and the introduction of COVID certificates that you have been vaccinated to be able to access a public service or go to work in the event of a pandemic constitute a violation of human rights?
A special right to bodily autonomy and decision-making about one's own body.
In most of the EU countries, in the West – mandatory, compulsory vaccination does not exist, when we talk about vaccines for children, those that are given according to the immunization calendars. And yet, in these countries, the vaccination rate of children is traditionally very high. Austria has announced mandatory vaccination against COVID-19, and polls say that the majority of the country's citizens support mandatory vaccination.
There is something called a social contract. The term itself was created during the Age of Enlightenment, and refers to a kind of agreement that occurs between the government and its people, between the state and its citizens. The name for this phenomenon comes from Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique, a 1762 book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that discussed this concept. Although the predecessors of the social contract theory are found in antiquity, in Greek and Stoic philosophy, and in Roman and canon law, the heyday of the social contract was from the middle of the 17th to the beginning of the 19th century, when it emerged as a leading doctrine of political legitimacy.
The starting point for most theories of the social contract is an examination of the human condition without any political order, which Thomas Hobbes called the “state of nature”, where individuals are apolitical and asocial, and the natural state is actually a state of anarchy. In fact, what we are talking about here is the law of reciprocity — the sovereign it guarantees one's safety, and citizens give up part of their freedom for safety. Although the original principles of the social contract according to Hobbs are now obsolete – we must not forget all those great revolutions in Europe and the fall of many monarchies – we see the basis of this as something that has been inherited in the legal acquis Living in a liberal-democratic society implies social protection, security, the right of citizens to develop, to work, but also obligations – not to harm another citizen.
An important 1948 UN document, the Declaration of Human Rights, describes these rights, including the idea that all people have the right to freedom of thought and expression and the right to freedom of religion. Civil liberties refer to rights given to people under a constitution or bill of rights or other forms of law. Human rights also include the right to be protected from danger. Some will interpret this to mean that they have the right to be protected by vaccines. For others, it is the right to be protected from disease.
Citizens agree to give up some freedoms if the government agrees to protect everyone's rights. Essentially, one's freedom extends only to the rights of someone else. In the case of illness, one's freedom to choose and not receive prophylaxis extends only to the other who needs to be protected from the illness and its spread. In other words, freedom in a democratic society is not absolute, anarchist freedom, as some understand it, but is limited by obligations and other people's rights. Ultimately, it is a freedom to kill someone, but the state limits that freedom and murder is punishable, whatever the reason.
This is exactly what Pieper Buckley talks about in an Opinion Piece for The News record, an independent student newspaper of the University of Cincinnati:
“Freedom of choice, however, is not equal to freedom from consequences. The fact is that the companies are privately owned. Schools can make their own rules for students and staff. State legislatures can create and change mandates for their citizens. So, no, you don't need to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in the sense that you don't need to do anything. But like any other choice we make, there are some consequences. Exercising your ‘freedom’ not to vaccinate could mean sacrificing other things, such as shopping, work, going to school, traveling and more.“
So, in that same liberal-democratic society, where the private is practically sacred, the state cannot force you to get vaccinated, but your employer, private companies, your restaurant or cafe – can. And here comes the collision of the understanding of freedom in the libertarian brain: they, like small children, have tantrums that they do not want to be vaccinated because it is an attack on their personal freedom, but when someone shows that he too has the right to personal freedom – that is, the condition that their employees or guests are vaccinated, in order to reduce the risk of infection, this is where the problem arises. Therefore, one cannot be exclusive, and claim the right only to one's wishes. Every decision has a consequence. Our freedoms are pushed between other people's rights and can only exist until then.
Here, of course, we should also mention real exceptions, contraindications for vaccination – a small percentage of people really cannot receive vaccines due to some condition. Some have strong allergic reactions to one of the vaccine components, say polyethylene glycol. They can be vaccinated in hospital conditions and wait a little longer at the vaccination site in case something happens, in order to have timely help. There are also people who are immunocompromised, have just received an organ or blood transfusion, and then any vaccination is postponed. There are also people who are in the terminal stages of some disease and it is possible that the side effects would accelerate the course of the disease – because the temperature after vaccination, which most people get over easily, is difficult for them. Or people receiving corticosteroids. Basically, these exceptions are very rare, and make up a smaller percentage of the total population.
Also, the more people are vaccinated, the more the possibility of the virus spreading decreases.
People who worry that vaccination requirements interfere with their rights appeal to the freedom to refuse vaccination for personal, ideological or religious reasons and, in the case of those who are concerned about vaccine safety and about side effects despite strong evidence that vaccines are safe and that side effects are generally non-threatening for life, they also refer to the right to protection from harm.
Those who believe they have the right to be protected from vaccination have succumbed to a harmful misinformation campaign that vaccines contain toxins, cells from aborted embryos, that vaccine ingredients are embedded in DNA or that vaccines even contain chips, and that side effects are either frequent or very dangerous. They consider vaccination dangerous and have no empathy for other members of society who want to protect themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes very rare side effects, which are often not clearly determined to have been caused by vaccines, work out for them. The death of one person or another side effect after vaccination will be used as proof that vaccines are dangerous. Here, the math is very clear: it is clear that no amount of math showing how rare side effects, such as thrombosis after adenovirus vaccines, are, will convince an ordinary person to receive the vaccine, if he is afraid of being that “1 in a million cases”. Most people react exactly like that – they don't want to be that exception, that ugly thing that rarely happens, but it can still happen, and they'd rather accept that they fatalistically wait for infection than to protect themselves. Even this kind of behavior is more common among people who are prone to fatalism.
Here we should propose the hypothesis that this kind of fatalistic behavior, refusal of vaccination because the individual believes that vaccination is more dangerous than the disease or that he will magically, with the protection of a higher power, avoid the disease, is more common among dogmatic-religious than among secular-minded citizens. Also, fatalists may be more inclined to traditionalist and conservative political ideologies, even populist ones, which makes them less inclined to accept science. Fatalistic, dogmatic behavior will be a likely predictor of whether a person will consider the need for vaccination in a crisis situation as an attack on personal freedom. Of course, this is only a proposed hypothesis, which should be tested.
In an article for Quartz by Sarah Todd, bioethicist Matthew Liao, director of the Center for Bioethics at New York University, says that in ethics there is an idea that you can do things as long as you don't harm other people. “When you don't get vaccinated, you put people at risk,” he adds.
There have already been lawsuits for violation of human rights due to vaccination, but they were dismissed.
In Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905, the US Supreme Court upheld the power of states to mandate vaccination (in this case smallpox) for this very reason. The court stated in its opinion:
“The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not include the absolute right of every person to be at all times and under all circumstances entirely free from restraint, nor is it an element of such liberty that one person or a minority of persons living in any community and enjoying the benefits of its local government, should have the power to dominate the majority when they are supported in their actions by the power of the state.“
“Vavrička and others v. Czech Republic” is one such case, but in which the European Court of Human Rights found that the decision of the Czech authorities to introduce mandatory vaccination does not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
Vaccine mandates could threaten liberty only in cases for religious reasons or for objective medical reasons that are rare. But, refusing vaccines for religious reasons seems to have been used too often in the US as a reason to avoid vaccination, so that in some states there are attempts to abolish this reason as valid. Also, even for federal states where it is possible to invoke this, it is not so easy.
Another thing to draw attention to regarding the opposition to vaccination and restrictive measures that limit the movement of the unvaccinated, is the comparison of these groups with the Holocaust or other examples of genocide.
There are also those who put a yellow Star of David on their FB profiles with the message “I am not inoculated/vaccinated” and a whole series of associations with the Holocaust and fascism, whereby scientific recommendations are declared a fascist imposition by the establishment.
Vaccines are often compared to genocide and the Holocaust in these narratives. Images comparing vaccines to Nazism became quite common on social media. dr. Rashid Buttar said the vaccines were part of a “depopulation plan” and compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to Hitler, saying “the number of deaths caused by Fauci will exceed those of the Holocaust.” At the same time, in the USA, medical workers who administer vaccines receive terrible threats from groups that make exactly this kind of comparison. In Germany, where Nazi symbols and downplaying the Holocaust are prohibited, we could also see such symbols and narratives at anti-vaccination protests.
Antivaxxers compare vaccines to rape (“needle rape”, which Joe Rogan often says), and the background of this is actually toxic masculinism (very characteristic of domestic alt-right groups, and also of groups like Proud Boys, Boogaloo), in which vaccines are seen as “something for the weak“, because “natural immunity is better” and at the same time this team subconsciously sees a phallus in the form of a vaccine, and they have homophobic attitudes, so they perceive vaccines as an attack on their masculinity, and this narrative is also taken over by women from these communities. Fragile ego and toxic masculinity are the right ground for monetization and those who serve such narratives to that population, really cash in on it. Both Rogan and Alex Jones sell various supplements hand in hand, and advertise a number of other things.
Also, conservatives like to invoke freedom of choice through the right to bodily autonomy, drawing a parallel between their freedom and right not to be vaccinated with women's freedom to have the right to choose. Very often pro-life movements have a strong tendency to be anti-vaccine. However, let's recall the cases of women in Poland who were banned from abortion, so they were forced to carry a dead fetus to term, which ultimately led to their death, to understand how life-threatening this type of indoctrination is: at the same time, fighting against the right to abortion, these ultraconservatives, such as the Vigilare association from Croatia and a number of similar movements in the world, question the health of women, and by fighting against vaccines and spreading misinformation, they directly endanger public health.
Paradoxically, these people and these events present themselves as fighters and the fight against fascism, practically kidnapping certain elements of the anti-fascist struggle. There is also a FB page originating from BiH “Sloboda narodu“ where anti-vaccination content and content that cast doubt on the effectiveness and importance of other epidemiological measures are shared. It is interesting that this page has a name that is associated with the anti-fascist struggle in Yugoslavia, but the values it advocates are the values of chaos, mistrust of science and vaccines. In this way, the name of the site flirts with the population (
Even at the end of 2021, a website with a noose as a trademark was created in Croatia, which called for the lynching of distinguished scientists, scientific journalists, communicators and politicians – the president and prime minister of Croatia. The page was created by teacher Bernarda Jug, previously known for her ultra-right-wing views, and for organizing mobbing and harassment of doctors who promote vaccination in Telegram groups.
Strong opponents of vaccines in Serbia again come from the ranks of zealot-nationalist right-wing movements, such as “I live for Serbia”. At the truck drivers’ protests in Canada, some strange flags appeared that are not Serbian, but probably belong to some of the historical Chetnik garrisons.
Simply, there is something in conservatism and right-wing that tends to be against vaccines, and science in general.
These connections should be examined scientifically, from a sociological-anthropological point of view. Why are those who are far-right, conservatives, paleoconservatives, neoliberals, libertarians at the same time mostly anti LGBTIQ, anti-abortion, profascist, anti-vax, anti-science, anti-climate-change?
Freedom is an important thing. But the next time a freedom fighter opens up so much that he invites his followers to lynch dissenters and has openly fascist and Nazi views, one should ask himself – is this the freedom we want?
Freedom should be something noble, intended for everyone, and not a hysterical appeal to one's own absolute freedom in which no one else is free or protected. And democracy is a very fragile achievement of human civilization and it can easily collapse under the weight of the false “struggle for freedom”, which is just another name for the ultra-right anarchist paradise that is a copy of the totalitarianism we see in “The Handmaid's Tale”. Democracy, like vaccines, can easily become a victim of its own success.
Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.