The following article is submitted to the editorial of MalaysiaGazette by Siti Munirah Edward and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shahrul Mizan Ismail, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia(UKM).
The immunisation programme in Malaysia was initiated on 24th of February 2021. Finally having a safe, available vaccine appears to be the light at the end of a long dark tunnel for all Malaysians.
The Malaysian government is gradually eliminating the imposed restriction as the immunisation rate improves. Now, Malaysians who have been fully vaccinated are now permitted to travel both domestically and internationally. Schools are gradually reopening and dine-in is permitted. But apart from combatting COVID-19, we’re also fighting anti-vaccine sentiment. According to our Health Minister, Khairy Jamaludin, 95% of the Malaysian adult population has at least received the first dose of vaccine, but there are still a small number who refuse to be vaccinated. The anti-vaccine is adamant that despite their choice of not getting the vaccine, they should be able to receive the same treatment like those who already got their jab. The anti-vaccine argues that forced vaccination and any setback due to their decision is an infringement of their freedom of choice. So, is there any limitation to freedom when there is a conflict between individual and public interest?
According to Roscoe Pound, the law protects a variety of societal interests. Rudolf Von Ihering feels that society is more important than a single person. As a result, while an individual is free to pursue his own interests, his private interests must be balanced against the state’s or common interest. The law never ensures the individual’s good as an end in itself, but rather as a means to securing the good of society. The current interest for Malaysians right now is reaching towards herd immunity to keep vulnerable groups who cannot get vaccinated (e.g. due to health conditions like allergic reactions to the vaccine) safe and protected from the disease. Herbert Spencer states that the preservation of the species takes precedence over the preservation of the individual. For Spencer, an individual has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he does not infringe the equal freedom of the others. According to John Rawls, the idea of absolute freedom is a myth when it involves social settings. In a society where the rights of individuals have to be harmonized with their duties towards the society, all the fundamental rights and their freedom must be subjected to certain limitations.
Therefore, as much as the anti-vaccine community is just exercising their freedom of right, the freedom must be limited when it involves health and the society at large. To this date, the Malaysian Government has yet to make it legally mandatory for Malaysians to get vaccinated. We all still maintain the freedom to choose to either get it or not. However, freedom to choose, doesn’t equate to freedom from consequences. Vaccine is a choice, but the choice not to take it may cause harm to the members of the public. Therefore, as much as freedom is a granted right, there must be a limit to it, especially when it involves lives and health.
It is your right to choose what you want, and it is your responsibility to live with the consequences of your choice.
Siti Munirah Edward,
Third Year Law Student, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia(UKM)
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shahrul Mizan Ismail,
Lecturer, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia(UKM).