Anti-vaxxers, or vaccine scepticism, has underlined much of the past 6 months of the pandemic. As the world opens up – hesitantly – vaccination status has been the key to many people’s access to freedom. Enter Novak Djokovic; the world’s top-ranked male tennis player, and reigning Australian Open champion has been denied entry to the country at the border and is currently being held in a government detention facility over his vaccine status.
Novak Djokovic has long been a vaccine sceptic, if not an outright anti-vaxxer. In April 2020 he was vocal about his opposition to vaccination for COVID-19 and stated he would not be forced to take the vaccine to return to the ATP World Tennis Tour.
As of today, he remains unvaccinated. This is despite most countries on the tour requiring anyone to be vaccinated in order to enter the country. Djokovic announced on social media earlier this week that despite his vaccine status, he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open, having gained a medical exemption.
This was seemingly approved by the Australian government, allowing him to obtain a visa and compete to defend the title that he has won nine times, including in 2021.
Australian rules require that anyone entering the country must be fully vaccinated – including sportspeople – unless they obtain a medical exemption.
Djokovic seemingly did so, but his visa was cancelled upon arrival, in an apparent power struggle between the Australian government in Canberra, and the state government for Victoria, where Melbourne is located. The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, was a vocal opponent of the exemption, with much of his state up in arms at the seemingly tiered rules system that applied to ordinary citizens, and tennis stars.
Last night, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed in after it was announced Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled, saying that “no one is above these rules”, despite it appearing that his government were the ones that approved the initial exemption.
Djokovic is apparently appealing the decision, as he remains in a government quarantine hotel near Melbourne Airport.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told journalists that players had already been informed of the requirement for full vaccination back in November, allowing players time to become fully vaccinated.
“Immediately we communicated that to the playing group, it is the one direction that you take that is going to ensure everyone’s safety”.
“All the playing group understands it, our patrons will need to be vaccinated, all the staff working at the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated”.
Medical exemptions for vaccinations are usually based on an individual having a serious medical condition which prevents them from being vaccinated. The fact that an elite sportsman was able to be granted this status led to cries of foul play and a different rule applying to tennis stars, leading to the government backtracking, seemingly whilst Djokovic was in the air on his way to Melbourne.
Is it fair?
The application of the rules equally is an important aspect of the rule of law and of an equal society, suggesting that special status should not be granted to those in high-profile positions who wish not to comply.
However, others are concerned that Djokovic has been treated unfairly in this situation, as he was initially granted the right to enter Australia before it was seemingly revoked without his knowledge and left the tennis star in a government facility before apparent deportation from the country.
It also appears that the medical exemption and subsequent revocation were part of a wider power struggle between the government in Canberra and the state government in Victoria, with the tennis star acting as a high-profile pawn in the conflict over how to apply the rules.
What of mandatory vaccinations?
Mandatory vaccination, particularly for travel, has been a key feature as the world emerges from Coronavirus, with most nations requiring fully vaccinated status, or a negative test (often both) in order to travel. This is the case for Australia.
However, this has been heavily criticised by some as many people are locked out of aspects of society due to their decision not to be vaccinated.
Not all who refuse vaccination are anti-vaxxers in the mould of Piers Corbyn, who smash up testing sites and threaten violence against MPs for trying to protect public health. Many are simply wary of the vaccine, often due to misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers which seep into public knowledge and create misconceptions about its safety. It is not clear which camp Djokovic is in.
The ability of the vaccine to protect against Coronavirus is clear through existing evidence and therefore many governments have seen a tiered system, which enables people who are vaccinated, and therefore pose less risk to themselves and others, to participate in society in an almost fully ‘normal’ way.
This has been the case in Australia; New Zealand has even gone further, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern doubling down when accused of creating two classes of citizens by a journalist: “That is what it is,” she said.
It is argued by knowingly increasing risk to yourself and other people by refusing the vaccine, it is the responsibility of the government to then reduce this risk by preventing you from attending events where greater risk takes place. The UK has begun a similar programme for large scale events, such as football matches, where vaccine passports will be required.
Others argue that in a free society, the government should not be able to restrict your access to events due to your refusal to take a vaccine, even if this does pose a greater risk to yourself and others.
Vaccinations have been proven to be safe and effective against not just the Delta variant, but the Omicron variant which emerged in late 2021. A UK study has shown 88% efficacy from the booster shot against the Omicron variant, whilst studies earlier in 2021 found that the risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots; catching the virus is thought to be up to 9 times more likely to cause such effects.
Do you think that vaccination status should be a requirement to participate in large scale events, or travel abroad?