On 9 December, the UAE approved the use of the Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine on the heels of the UK approval of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine a week earlier (the USA’s subsequently approved the same vaccine on 12 December). Other countries have already followed suit with the various vaccines available and more shall do so over the coming year.
Despite the collective sigh of relief, thanks to the vaccines’ emergence, the manufacture and consequences of implementing them has raised a plethora of legal concerns. The vaccines’ arrival has set a precedent for obtaining the fastest regulatory approval (whilst complying with the stringent FDA), the fastest pace of production, and subsequent expeditious release. This has caused widespread concern as individuals are unsure of their use and safety. Undoubtedly, pressure from governments has contributed to the early procurement, and in doing so, the question remains as to whether the people’s wellbeing has been compromised.
The efficacy rate of the Pfizer vaccine is 95%, Sinopharm is 86%, and Sputnik (the Russian equivalent) is at 92% (bearing in mind, these efficacy rates are yet to be peer reviewed). Usually, a longer period is taken to analyse the long-term side effects and concerns have been raised toward potential reactions. Strikingly, the UK government has already granted Pfizer legal indemnity, meaning that Pfizer cannot be held responsible for any negative effects that are brought about by its vaccine. Protection from legal actions suggests an anticipation for action itself and with the possible implication that there is something Pfizer needs to be protected from. The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Chief Executive, alongside Pfizer, have reassured that “no corners had been cut” in the production of the vaccine (which would therefore surely imply a lesser need for legal protection).
Another set of questions raised by the vaccine are its infringements on liberty, as the large population of ‘anti-vaxxers’ who exist worldwide insist on not taking the vaccine despite the threatened insistence of governments and institutions on making it compulsory to do so. In addition, many employers are also looking to make the vaccine mandatory creating further tension with these anti-vaxxers, whose livelihoods are vulnerable as a result. In the USA, it is legal to make the taking of a flu vaccine a requirement for a place of work, so it would seem obvious that a vaccine that prevents the spread of a world halting pandemic would also be legalised in the same manner. It would not be unfathomable if employers, not only in the USA, but worldwide also make the taking of the vaccine compulsory – giving little regard to ethics. It is simpler in a country like the UAE to enforce the blanket use of the vaccine, where curbs on an individual’s liberty are greater than for instance in Europe or the USA. If a decree were to be issued making the vaccine mandatory for the collective good there would be no issue of ethics or choice, it would probably simply be a case of take it or leave.