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Wealthy countries have cornered the world’s vaccine supplies. As a result, the Philippines has, as of this writing, vaccinated only 10% to 12% of its population. To punish the unvaccinated by barring them from leaving their homes — when vaccine inequity has yet to be addressed — aggravates an already inequitable public health crisis.
In this B-Side episode, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Jose Luis Martin “Chito” C. Gascon explains the Siracusa Principles — guidelines on the legitimacy, ethics, necessity, and proportionality of a state’s restrictions on human rights during an emergency — to BusinessWorld’s Alyssa Nicole O. Tan. “We cannot create a two-tier system where one class of people, vaccinated, are allowed every opportunity, while another set of people are denied certain rights,” he said.
Human dignity must be at the core of the state’s decisions and everyone must be treated with respect.
When dealing with human rights issues in the context of a pandemic, it’s important that core human rights principles are guaranteed — such as the affirmation of each person’s dignity, and the avoidance of coercive or violent means.
“The purpose is not to prevent the state from doing what it needs to do, but to confirm that the purpose for being of a state — which is to serve and protect its people — is constantly affirmed,” Mr. Gascon said.
Under the Siracusa Principles, the question of legitimacy, ethics, necessity and proportionality stand as guideposts that lead people towards proper decision-making and implementation. More than anything, the CHR chair underscored that “these principles need to be understood in the context we find them.”
Human rights are enjoyed in community with others.
On the question of individual rights versus community responsibility with regard to vaccination willingness, Mr. Gascon asks everyone to consider: “The exercise of my rights must be done in such a way that it does not cause harm or violate the rights of others.”
Each person has a responsibility to the community not only to protect themselves but others as well. This is why a spectrum of modalities must be examined to ensure that the measure undertaken will grant herd immunity, which is ultimately the supposed pledge of the state.
“It’s important that everyone has free, informed consent, as well as protection of their personal and physical integrity,” said Mr. Gascon, adding that positive means rather than coercive means must be adopted when informing the public of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
“I don’t think we are at that point where we should grab our syringes and start forcing this upon people,” he said, explaining that the focus should first remain in making vaccines readily available.
The unvaccinated are not second-class citizens.
Terms like “walking spreader” or “variant factories” have been used by government officials to refer to the unvaccinated, in the hopes of promoting vaccinations. While Mr. Gascon said that various health strategies to contain the virus should be pursued, “name calling or stigmatizing will not help.”
“It’s premature to make this distinction and use language that might further isolate the unvaccinated, reduce public trust or even increase vaccine hesitancy,” Mr. Gascon said.
The end goal is for everyone to freely and safely engage within the new normal.
Mr. Gascon said that while vaccine passports and cards have value, “it should not be to the extent that we then deny those who do not have the vaccines — for whatever reasons — the necessary services and opportunities that will make for a productive lifestyle.”
“We cannot create a two-tier system where one class of people, vaccinated, are allowed every opportunity, while another set of people are denied certain rights,” he said.
While no exclusion from services and opportunities will be placed, constraints must exist to protect the safety of the public, said the CHR chair. After deciding not to be vaccinated, even if they had every opportunity to be, they must take the responsibility to ensure this does not cause harm to others.
An unvaccinated individual may be required to take regular tests to prove that they are not infected, for example.
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