Covid vaccine: Novak Djokovic may attract little sympathy but we must not persecute the unvaccinated – Murdo Fraser MSP

It is hard to summon up much sympathy for the situation that Novak Djokovic has found himself in.

Novak Djokovic takes part in a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament (Picture: Kelly Defina/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic takes part in a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament (Picture: Kelly Defina/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Whatever the legal position, the appearance of an international tennis star, who has refused to be vaccinated against Covid, seemingly demanding special treatment to be allowed to play in the Australian Open has not gone down well with all those who have taken medical advice and got themselves jabbed.

Other countries have introduced even stronger sanctions against those who have not been vaccinated against Covid. Austria introduced a lockdown prior to Christmas only for the unvaccinated, whilst in Singapore those who have refused vaccines have been told they have to pay for their own hospital treatment.

I am an evangelist for vaccination, and, like many others, have now been triple jabbed. However, I also believe in individual choice, and respect the views of those who take a different stance on vaccination.

Not all of the unvaccinated are ideological anti-vaxxers; some will have genuine concerns about the vaccines, perhaps because they are nervous about a relatively new vaccine being introduced to their bodies when the long-term effects are unknown.

What we do know is that vaccinations, and in particular the booster, are helping to reduce the level of hospitalisations from Omicron, despite the speed at which it is spreading. What vaccinations do not do, however, is protect others to any great extent, a point which has been explicitly conceded by the Scottish government in the evidence paper that they produced last year in support of their vaccine passport scheme.

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So the argument that allowing the unvaccinated to mix with the vaccinated increases the risk to the latter group is one which has little foundation. It is, nevertheless, undoubtedly the case that the unvaccinated are more likely to become ill with Covid, therefore increasing the pressures on the NHS.

We could apply the same argument to those who are smokers, or are obese, and yet we do not restrict access to NHS treatment to people in those categories just because lifestyle choices contribute to increased health demands.

We also know that the rate of vaccination is particularly low amongst minority ethnic communities, for a variety of cultural reasons. Vaccine hesitancy is especially acute within the Polish community in Scotland – perhaps it should not surprise us that there is a suspicion of government mass medication programmes from a population that suffered so much from totalitarian regimes throughout the last century.

Any government seeking to impose further restrictions on the unvaccinated would therefore have serious questions to answer about discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity.

Research by behavioural scientists tells us that ever more Draconian measures against the unvaccinated are likely to harden opposition to vaccines amongst those already sceptical, thus having the opposite effect to that intended.

The answer to all this is, therefore, improved education as to the benefits of vaccination, dispelling the pseudo-science and the social media myths, and making vaccination more accessible to those groups where there has been the lowest take up, not trying to punish the unvaccinated.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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