When Italy passed a law in 2019 requiring children to receive vaccinations for a range of diseases – including chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps and rubella – before attending school, the country’s health minister, Giulia Grillo, did not mince her words: “No vaccine, no school.”
The Lorenzin law, as the measure is known, was instrumental in bringing Italy’s childhood vaccination rates in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommended target of 95 per cent. Although the WHO estimates that vaccines of all kinds save up to 3 million lives each year, efforts to use legislation or policy to drive vaccination campaigns have not been embraced universally. Most European and African countries do not require children attending schools and day cares to be vaccinated; most in the Middle East and the Americas do.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revived discussions worldwide over the role of immunisation campaigns in public safety – this time among adults. As with childhood vaccination, governments are most concerned with ensuring that shared spaces are safe – for what is a return to “normal” if not a return to a world in which everyone feels safe out in public?
In Abu Dhabi, where more than 93 per cent of those eligible have received a Covid-19 vaccine, authorities have outlined a plan to secure most public areas against the virus, by only allowing vaccinated individuals into areas such as shopping centres, gyms, cafes and restaurants. The measures do not apply for anyone under the age of 15, as well as those with vaccine exemptions.
While Abu Dhabi’s measures are more detailed than those adopted in other places, many countries are trialling policies that would privilege those who – unless prevented from doing so – opt to vaccinate. France, for example, plans to allow fully vaccinated tourists from select countries to enter. Saudi Arabia has announced that it will require all pilgrims to have had both doses of the vaccine for Hajj. This month, former UK health secretary Matt Hancock said that all care home staff in the country would need to have both jabs of an approved vaccine, and that the measure might be extended to the entire health system.
Many private employers are considering similar measures. People working in the New York offices of investment bank Morgan Stanley will reportedly be barred from entering the building next month unless they are fully vaccinated. Australian airline Qantas has even said inoculated passengers would be in with the chance of winning a year's free flights.
While these decisions are not easy to take, any downsides pale in comparison to the disruptive lockdowns people across the world have had to endure. If getting a jab or a regular PCR test seems hard, people should seek comfort in the fact that by sticking to measures for almost two years, they have already demonstrated the resolve to do their bit for the public good.
There is also no avoiding the fact that vaccines are a central pillar for pandemic recovery. The first phase of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic was a scramble to contain a virus about which the world knew virtually nothing. The second phase was about learning to reopen economies, schools and necessary travel in a manner that did not jeopardise overall safety . Recovery is about learning to live with this virus that constantly demands vigilance.
Each day that passes, more people get vaccinated, and the worrisome prospect of infection diminishes. The truth of the matter is simple. To echo Ms Grillo's saying, no vaccine, no normal.