To vax or not to vax: Is that still the question?

Published December 29, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

At the beginning of November, the Oxford English Dictionary chose its word of the year. Quite expectedly, it opted for a word that best summarizes this 2021, a year that came at the heels of a pandemic that still continues to this day. And this word is “vax,” which is short for vaccine (n) or to get vaccinated (v), or to be vaccinated (adj).

An innocent word on its own, it has taken the entire world captive, so to speak, as countries race to immunize — to vax — their populace as quickly as possible. In the case of the Philippines, the rate of vax (as a noun) as estimated by the Department of Health in its National COVID-19 Vaccination Board is currently at 662,104 persons per day. As of Dec. 27, there are around 47.86 million fully vaxxed (as an adjective) Filipinos, with some 1.48 million who have received boosters (i.e. additional vax). Meanwhile, those who have received a single vax dose now total 56.95 million. This puts the total vaxx doses administered (boosters included) to 106.2 million.

Although a lot of factors affect how fast countries can vax (as a verb) its peoples, chief among these is the availability of the vax (also as a noun), some degree of reluctance remains among certain groups. Other groups are even vehemently opposed to the idea of getting vaxxed.

In the Philippines, a wave of anti-vax sentiment came in the wake of the pre-pandemic Dengvaxia issue. This seems to have been completely forgotten, or at least mostly, as Filipinos are generally more in favor of getting vaxxed, at least according to statistics. It is in this regard that vax should not just be word of the year. The issue, as with anything worthwhile, is not so simple. Getting vaxxed is deemed important, even necessary by governments and health experts all over the world, with campaigns urging people to get vaxxed aired on TV and radio, posted online and in print. On the other hand, no government can force people to get vaxxed, out of respect for the individual rights and freedoms.

When one speaks of rights and liberties, however, doesn’t one have to consider impinging on other people’s own rights and liberties? Does public safety, regarded mostly during our times as the populace’s ability to survive COVID, outweigh the individual’s choice to remain unvaxxed, for one reason or another? The exercise of freedom always comes at a cost. Freedom is paid for by consequence. And in the case of people not getting vaxxed, this consequence can mean the health and safety, in some instances the life and death, of others.

Will there ever be a situation where the health and safety of the public outweighs the rights and liberties of individual anti-vaxxers? Or will we remain stuck in a tug-of-war between getting vaxxed and not getting vaxxed, as both seem to be a right any person could claim?