JACINDA ARDERN has clearly decided to do all she can to persuade New Zealanders to get vaccinated. Her Government is going to extraordinary lengths to reach out to the “vaccine hesitant”; to engage with them in positive conversations about the benefits of getting the jab.
Celebrities and sports heroes are being asked to provide “social proof” of the vaccine’s efficacy. Trusted figures like church pastors and community organisers are reassuring doubters that vaccination against Covid-19 will not only protect them, but also their friends and whanau. The Prime Minister, herself, is constantly reiterating the message that the fastest route to freedom is through New Zealanders’ upper arms.
No one can accuse the state of not walking its talk. Testers and vaccinators are going door-to-door in some suburbs. Special busses are cruising the streets. Taxi cabs are being paid by the tax-payer to take carless families to the vaccination centres. That the New Zealand state is pulling out all the stops in the persuasion department is incontrovertible.
For the overwhelming majority of Kiwis this massive effort simply isn’t necessary. Most of them trust their government to do everything within its power to keep them safe. That it may not do these things particularly well on occasion is irksome and frustrating, but it is not proof of official mendacity – let alone of a diabolical conspiracy. They are also pre-disposed to accept the advice of scientific experts, and reassured to learn that their political leaders are doing the same. They follow the rules of lockdown and are moved by the feelings of solidarity which their own – and their fellow citizens’ – compliance evokes.
These are the people who have lifted New Zealand’s vaccination rate effortlessly towards the 70 percent mark. Well-educated, well-housed, well-remunerated – they are not the problem. The “problem” – if that is the right word – lies with those who are poorly educated, poorly-housed, and/or just plain poor. The very people for whom all these over-and-above efforts are being made, and among whom they are proving to be highly successful.
Pasifika communities are leading the way in this respect. Vaccine hesitant, and plagued by all kinds of misinformation and conspiracy theories, these Covid-struck communities swiftly mobilised their considerable social and religious resources, driving up the vaccination rates of Pasifika people to the point where, in some parts of the country they are now well ahead of Māori and Pakeha alike.
The Pasifika example has no doubt reassured Jacinda and her government that they are on the right track. Clearly, they are doing all they can to replicate their success in Māori communities. There is no reason to suppose that the state’s outreach strategies here will not prove equally successful. When they are, the national vaccination rate will be nudging 85 percent.
Which leaves only the diehard anti-vaxxers, and those The Daily Blog Editor Martyn Bradbury colourfully calls “Death-Cult Capitalists”.
It is by no means certain that any kind of “outreach” will prove effective against those who, for whatever reason, have convinced themselves that the Covid-19 vaccines are part of a vast global conspiracy to enslave what remains of the world’s free-thinking and freedom-loving people. Against such individuals the techniques of persuasion have proved to be depressingly ineffective. The more sophisticated and evidence-based the arguments in favour of vaccination, the more the anti-vaxxers are convinced that they are dealing with forces of the most diabolical cunning. Attempts to use friends and family members to expose the delusional nature of their thinking have proved equally unsuccessful. Though deeply upset, they are not convinced. Discovering that their loved ones have succumbed to the mind-control of the global puppet-masters, only makes them more determined to hold out and fight on.
Against these folk the only reasonable means of defence is the Vaccination Passport. Denied access to all the usual locations of friendly and productive human interaction may not convince the anti-vaxxers that they are wrong about the vaccine, but, over time, it just might wear them down. There is very little in this world that is harder for human-beings to bear than being shunned by society and excluded from its benefits. What’s more, at no more than 5 percent of the population, their recalcitrance may very soon cease to be a problem. In saving themselves, the “pro-social” may end up saving the “anti-social” as well.
When it comes to the Death-Cult Capitalists, however, New Zealand faces a much more serious threat.
This vicious minority of the population isn’t against vaccination, it’s against the whole idea of society in general, and the state in particular, going to such lengths to protect the weak and the vulnerable. They regard the very idea of locking down a whole country, or even an entire city, as abhorrent.
Imposing costs upon businesses, and constraining free-market forces, is seen as far more damaging in the longer-term than losing a few hundred, or even a few thousand, of society’s weakest links. They chafe at the restrictions imposed upon them – especially those impeding their freedom of movement. That mere politicians are daring to tell them what they can do, and where they can go, is experienced by these people as the worst kind of tyranny – the “North Korean option”.
Rather than celebrate their government, and their fellow citizens, engaging in the practical application of social solidarity, kindness and love; they look at their country and see only a “smug hermit kingdom”.
Such people are a far cry from the hesitant, the misinformed, and the anti-vaxxers. The worst you can say of these folk is that they are either frightened, deluded or wrong – sometimes all three at once. But for those who see human existence as a pitiless struggle to determine the survival of the fittest; for those who see human-beings as means to an end, never as ends in themselves; for those who would let thousands die rather than see the strong restrained in any way; for these people there is only one word: Evil.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 October 2021.