The anti-vaccination campaign which is echoing in the press, and especially is spreading on Facebook, relies heavily on the defence of so-called ‘individual liberty’, or ‘personal choice’ to refuse getting vaccinated. At any rate they are contesting regulations whereby, according to them, the Government is ‘forcing’ them to get vaccinated. In fact the government’s regulation provides the choice between vaccinations, PCR test, or certification by a medical board to be able to go to a health or educational institution. The ‘My Body, My Choice, My Voice’ campaign which Julie Vranckx-Lepert is carrying out with the help of Bruneau Laurette, Ivor Tan Yan and Rama Valayden, illustrates this well. They speak of ‘My Body, My Choice, My Right’, only ‘my’, ‘my’, ‘my’. And we are supposed to see this type of rhetoric normal. It is not normal.
In fact, it is not only in Mauritius that this anti-vax campaign is spreading during this period, it is also happening in other countries. It is the most virulent in France and America. It does not date of today either. It has only become more selfish than before. And may be what established a fertile ground so that today such a campaign can still cause damage, and even more damage, even though there is great development in terms of scientific reasoning among the popular masses, is the form of capitalism called ‘neoliberalism’ which has dominated the world the last 40 years.
Neoliberalism in summary
What characterises neoliberalism can be summarised into three elements: individualism (egocentrism, greed), deregulation (end of environmental protections, removal of labour laws) and privatisation (even prison and the military have become businesses for profit). Neoliberalism is a version of capitalism which has exalted and promoted extreme individualism, especially economically, but also ideologically. That is ‘every one for themself’ becomes ‘normal’. Neoliberalism promotes private business at all levels of life. Freedom of private business and property (on resources necessary for the survival of the whole of humanity, such as land and big capital) is at the centre of the policy of economic liberalism. For the adepts of neoliberalism, all societies which are not founded on this basis do not form part of ‘free’ society. The ideologues of neoliberalism, through institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, are always cornering and putting on the defensive all regimes which do not give the maximum of facilities and ‘liberty’ to private enterprises to exploit the masses of the people. Military force has even been used to impose such a policy. This is how the era of neoliberalism was born: in 1973, when the Chilean military, along with the secret services of the USA, the CIA, overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende. In the ‘80s, the regimes of Reagan in America and Thatcher in Britain implemented this neoliberal policy in full force. They busted unions, gave the bosses the freedom to ruin the environment and over-exploit workers. This is neoliberal ‘freedom’. And it created a fertile ground which favoured the development of this type of slogan such as ‘me’ this, ‘me’ that.
In fact, if neoliberalism has established itself everywhere, it is because it hides its real goal under this notion of ‘liberalism’ to pretend it is in favour of more ‘liberty’. But in fact it is an ideology which ignores the division of society into different classes. It pretends we are all already ‘equal’, when in fact there is a class which is exploiting and ruling over another class of people. Thus, neoliberalism benefits and even consolidates the power of the dominating class. It means total liberty for the dominant class, that is the bourgeoisie, and freedom for its capital to circulate everywhere without any regulations and with minimum control from the State.
Neoliberal politics has caused a lot of damage across the world. It has also caused a lot of damage in the minds of a lot of people. It has destroyed many public services. It has transferred the power, already limited as it was, which the people had through its elected representatives in Parliament (department of the government), and placed it in the hands of the shareholders of big private companies. It has completely privatised many public service sectors such as telecom here, and, in other countries, the healthcare, transport, water, electricity, pension, education, and postal systems, and even the mining sector, and even prisons have been privatised.
The effect on the public healthcare system
In the field of public healthcare, neoliberalism has wreaked havoc. It has encouraged medicine based on illness instead of preventing illness and protection of people from infection. Treating disease, medical care and the medicinal drug industry have come to dominate the healthcare system, and later through the patents system, it has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to gain control over the production and accessibility of all medicines, and even vaccines. This is how preventive medicine, and vaccination which is an essential component of preventive medicine, has declined in many countries. Capitalists have forced governments to stop spending on it.
Because of neoliberalism, the public hospital system in many countries has been weakened or destroyed, and at the same time common property has been privatised, natural resources have been plundered, woodlands have been covered with concrete, environmental destruction on planet Earth has been accelerated, people have been made more selfish, all of which have led to the serious health crisis which the world is facing today.
The collective interest
The COVID-19 pandemic is an international problem which requires a solution for the whole world. To deal with such a contagious virus, the maximum of cooperation between countries and international solidarity is required. The collective interests needs to come first in all campaigns which really aim to eradicate the coronavirus.
But as we are seeing, this 40-years reign of neoliberal capitalism has instead encouraged and nurtured the opposite: individualism. It has instead made everyone look before anything else at what personal gain they can obtain in all their endeavours. Thus people have become used to see themselves as the competitors of their peers, and they no longer weigh the effects of their personal decisions on the whole of society. It has reduced people into atomised individuals where “each for themselves’ has become a habit, and eventually ‘became the norm’.
Campaigns such as “My Body, My Choice, My Voice” reinforce this same mould created by neoliberalism. They persist on glorifying the interest of the individual, a selfish interest. And they do this, even if it is to the detriment of the collective interest. All human morality is based on putting forward the common interest.
When I get vaccinated, it does not only protect me from the severe form of COVID-19. It does do this, yes. But, it concerns and affects my family, my close ones, my colleagues, my neighbours, my shopkeeper, my greengrocer, my hairdresser, and every person in my surroundings, and finally every person in the country, and at the end of the day, every person in the world. It is not ‘my choice’, as if it concerns and affects only myself. Vaccination prevents the spread of the virus for everyone. Vaccination prevents people from falling sick, from ending in the ICU and even from dying. Equally crucial, it prevents the health services in hospitals from being overwhelmed when everyone falls sick at the same time, and thus from getting overflowed and even collapsing. And if such a thing would ever happen, it would have consequences for all patients, for all people who are sick, for ‘my body’ as well, but not only for ‘my health’. Therefore when I refuse to get the injection in my arm and get vaccinated, and when I encourage other people to develop a fear of vaccination, it has an effect on the whole of society. Therefore, any campaign which discourages people from getting vaccinated, is dangerous for public health, that is for all people. It has serious consequences. If we are not able to get 70% or more people vaccinated, it means we will not be able to prevent the epidemic from spreading, we will not be able to prevent more fragile people from falling sick, we will not be able to prevent vulnerable people from developing a serious form of Covid-19, and therefore we will not be able to prevent them from dying. And we will not be able to eradicate Covid-19 just like we eradicated polio, for example.
Act as a whole
The individuals and groupings who are questioning vaccination are taking the wrong path. For them, it is as if the body of every person fell from the sky. It is as if everyone exists in a social vacuum. This is not true. For example, ‘my body’ needs, to remain alive, needs nutrition, food. And food brings us to the question of the social production of food. There is no production of food to keep us alive without social cooperation. ‘My body’ cannot exist without the work of other people who grow crops, who rear animals that make food products, who prepare it, who distribute it. Humans are social beings. ‘We’ need to look for ‘all of us’, instead of ‘me’ looking for ‘myself’.
There are many questions concerning ‘capitalist liberalism’ which are central to all these discussions on vaccination. Are we really only an individual-citizen? Is everyone free to exploit their neighbours? Do we have no bonds with society at large? Which bonds? Are there no differences between classes? Rich and poor? As a society, are we not responsible for ensuring the mutual well-being of all humanity through collective measures? Such as creating collective immunity through mass vaccination?
We, in LALIT, we are part of a political current which is anti-capitalist, and more especially anti-neoliberalism, which is in fact a form of unbridled capitalism. We believe each individual forms part of a society, a society which has a common history, a history which has a common present reality, and which has a common future. And we need to keep that in mind during an epidemic. The epidemic attacks society in general. To fight back, we need to act as a whole. The campaign of the grouping ‘My Body, My Choice, My Voice’ and other anti-vaxxers instead do the opposite. This is dangerous.
(Kreol version published on 24.06.21)