THE NCOC recently allowed the resumption, under strict protocols, of several areas of operation hit severely by the pandemic. These include indoor dining, attendance at weddings, cinemas, shrines, etc — activities with large numbers of people.
Amongst the protocols are the production and checking by establishments of vaccination certificates in a bid to ensure that unvaccinated individuals are kept as far away from the public domain as possible. The relaxation of rules came into effect on July 1.
Today, globally, several vaccines, whose duration of efficacy and scope of protection have yet to be absolutely established, are available. Some semblance of the new normal is emerging. Vaccines have been administered to hundreds of millions, and vaccine passports and proof-of-vaccine protocols are being rolled out. New York, for example, has been experimenting with the Excelsior Pass, an ‘immunity certificate’ that allows people to attend social events. Europe and the UK are trying similar formulations.
Here’s the rub, though. Across the world, there are thousands of people who simply cannot be vaccinated. These are the people with a range of pre-existing medical conditions, perhaps foremost among them certain allergies, in particular vaccine-related allergies. Upon the administration of a vaccine, such individuals may go into anaphylactic shock, a severe, often life-threatening reaction that can occur within seconds of being vaccinated. (Note: anaphylaxis can also be triggered by allergies due to non-medical interventions, such as by eating nuts or getting stung by a bee.) The Centres for Disease Control has on its records reports in this regard.
What about those who can’t be vaccinated?
The WHO warns that amongst the people who ought to consult relevant medical specialists before getting ‘the jab’ are pregnant and/or lactating women, those with underlying conditions such as auto-immune disorders, and others. In Pakistan, the US, the UK, and elsewhere, specialists have advised against people with such vulnerabilities getting the Covid jab.
The numbers of people left out of the vaccine net are hard to pin down. I urge medical professionals to provide some clarity. And I have some questions.
There is an urgent need to build into the SOPs regarding travel, whether cross-border or within one’s own locality, codified exemptions so that the right to free travel of such people is not asphyxiated. People who can’t get the jab have in many cases obtained certificates from their doctors detailing precisely this. But to whom do they show it in Pakistan? What government body do they go to for endorsement?
Nadra has proved efficient in providing official certificates of vaccinations. Were I amongst the people advised to avoid the vaccine, could I take my doctor’s certificate to Nadra, and will they offer me an alternative certificate? Inquiries by phone told me that no such procedure is currently in place.
A call to a helpline netted me a very helpful doctor who informed me that the authorities keep lists of conditions that preclude a person from getting a Covid jab. Which conditions are on the list? He could not disclose. When I explained the predicament that my involuntarily unvaccinated acquaintance was facing, he coughed wryly and answered the question obliquely: “You are aware, madam, of what happened when Pakistanis needed polio vaccination certificates to travel abroad. How many do you think actually took the drops?”
Similar dead ends were met upon conversation with representatives of a couple of international airlines. Could one present the doctor’s certificate to the travel agent? The decisions on vaccine-related passports or vaccination certificates are made at airlines’ head offices, in their home countries, in accordance with their governments’ (still-under-debate) policies.
One of these unvaccinated acquaintances recently received a circular from a prestigious club: people without proof of vaccination will be denied entry. A call to the club revealed that the management had not yet considered the predicament of persons such as my friend.
Today, it’s clubs and other establishments such as hotels, restaurants, and cinemas. Tomorrow, it will be malls and colleges and possibly any venue outside the home people must visit to carry on with life.
It’s important to answer, here, the argument that unvaccinated people constitute a risk to others. Of course they do. However, and the importance of this cannot be overestimated, vaccinations only reduce the risk factor. It has been observed that vaccinated people can still get the virus, they can still transmit it, they are still asymptomatic carriers, regardless of vaccination status.
This is the time for these exceptions to be formally recognised and built into policy. Those who cannot be vaccinated must not be further marginalised. Without that, we might as well detain these poor souls in their homes, paint a large red X on their doors, and consign them to a terrible fate.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2021