Are Vaccine Mandates Ethical?

Are Vaccine Mandates Ethical as Dr Elizabeth Fenton suggests in yesterday’s Newsroom piece?


NEWSROOM: Why vaccine mandates are ethical


Dr. Fenton is a lecturer in bioethics and her opinion has been highlighted by Newsroom as part of a Covid-19 Masterclass series being promoted by the Otago Global Health Institute. The essence of Dr. Fenton’s argument is that “Restricting people’s liberty is justified when the costs of what is being asked are small, and the harms being prevented are significant”—a thesis worthy of a brave new world. We analyse Dr. Fenton’s arguments.

Dr Fenton commences with a giant step of imagination saying “Three criticisms of these mandates have emerged in public debate”. Can we be forgiven for boldly asking of her ‘What public debate?’. The most extensive restriction of public liberty in NZ outside of wartime has just been rammed through Parliament without any debate. Throughout the pandemic NZ media has maintained a staunch resolve not to entertain sufficient debate and it appears they might have received income as a result.

Her first named criticism is that ‘forced mandates undermine public trust’. She easily dismisses this with the suggestion that forced mandates can comfortably ride side by side with friendly confidence building discussions about individual and collective responsibility.
Her second named criticism is that ‘the restriction of individual liberty should always be minimised by adopting the most effective strategy with the least infringement of liberty’. Dr Fenton dismisses this too, —the unvaccinated, a minority, are imposing greater risks on the majority who should be able to live ‘without fear of avoidable harms’.

Her third named criticism is that vaccine mandates violate important human rights such as ‘the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment’. Dr Fenton argues that vaccination is without harm and therefore the loss of employment imposed on the unvaccinated is a result of their freedom to choose what they value most. This penalty, she argues, is significantly smaller than ‘loss of life’ and therefore quite acceptable in the quest to reduce disease.

Let’s unpick her ethical stance step by step. Firstly one of her key arguments is that the personal costs of mandates are small. I would never have thought that the loss of employment is small, nor that the loss of freedom of movement is small. Our press has been decrying the loss of such freedoms in dictatorships and other countries for years. The need to free people from such restrictions has been used as a moral justification for social disobedience, foreign intervention, revolution, and even war. Freedoms are fundamental to our concept of a civilised world, coercion is anathema.

The second point underpinning Dr Fentons’ support for mandates can be expressed in one word ‘certainty’. Although she doesn’t commit herself explicitly in writing, Dr Fenton is implicitly certain that covid vaccines are fully safe. She ‘believes’ they will cause no medical harm. In so doing she ignores the emergency approval of mRNA vaccines before the completion of safety trials. She ignores that already several hundred New Zealanders have died proximate to vaccination. She ignores recently published papers in prestigious journals that show covid vaccines inhibit DNA repair. She ignores dramatically elevated risks of heart failure following vaccination…it’s a long list and growing every week. When there is a measurable and significant chance of death it is not ethical to require compliance, that is known as Russian roulette. The death of one man cannot be weighed against the death of another, that is the philosophy of war lords.

BUT Dr. Fenton’s certainty doesn’t stop there. She is implicitly certain that covid vaccines are effective—they must be a public good of the highest order sufficient to justify the coercion and punishment of a minority.


Stop the presses. The contradictions here, which should have been part of a real public debate, are too many to ignore:


  • Europe has high rates of vaccination, but is experiencing a fourth surge.
  • Vaccination confers immunity, but it allows transmission
  • Vaccination protects against symptoms, but it wanes rapidly and disappears.
  • Israel mandated booster shots, but covid deaths doubled last week.
  • Vaccination is safe, but causes 50 times more adverse reactions than normal.
  • Vaccination will protect society, but there is unprecedented excess mortality.
  • Young people are at great risk from covid, but their risk is miniscule.
  • Covid is a killer, but it is just 1.5 times more deadly than regular flu.
  • Covid will overwhelm health services, but they are functioning overseas.
  • Vaccination will develop herd immunity, but it doesn’t


Dr. Fenton believed that she had reduced the discussion of vaccine mandates to just three points. In so doing she was still living in a previous era when vaccination was regarded as safe by definition. We are facing a brave new world, in which the fundamentals of physiological stability—DNA and its messenger RNA—can and are being manipulated. This world is not safe by definition. Genetic technology has to be proven safe, not imposed.

Let’s have a real public debate, not a sham. The New Zealand public doesn’t require the suppression of information and the stifling of debate. Nor does it want to return to the classrooms of the last century where we had to comply only because we were told to do so. We cannot go back to a world of disinformation and sugared pills at this time in technological history when the stakes are the highest—our very survival.