“Sanctions” For Anti-Vaxxers In Brazil, According To Supreme Court; Bolsonaro Indignant

On Thursday December 17th, ten out of eleven judges in the Federal Supreme Court (STF) came to a resounding agreement; they ruled that all Brazilians should be legally “required” to take a coronavirus vaccine. This comes after President Jair Bolsonaro declared he would not be vaccinated, and that nobody else should be forced to. But, according to a government statement issued shortly after the decision, those who cannot prove inoculation may have certain rights, such as welfare payments, public school enrollment and entry to various public places, taken away from them. Brazil has surely suffered on account of the virus- over seven million citizens have fallen victim, while close to 190,000 have died from it. However, to impose sanctions like this would be to cultivate a state of confusion, divide the Brazilian people and slash away at their liberties.

According to G1, a news portal owned by Grupo Globo, Ricardo Lewandowski was one of the judges who voted in favour of these injunctions. He emphasised the country’s  “collective health,” which “cannot be harmed by those who deliberately refuse to be vaccinated.”  Another one of these justices, Alexandre de Moraes, laid out how this health will be protected: “Each Brazilian will have the obligation to be vaccinated, which does not mean that they may be forced to take the vaccine.”  While it is fortunate that the general population will not be ‘forced’ to do anything- whatever that word means- it seems that they will be getting the next best thing: coercive measures, in the way of penalties and bans. This looks a lot like discrimination against those who might want to exercise their freedoms.

One of the people who would like to exercise these freedoms is the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. He is concerned about vaccines having the opposite effect, that they might be harmful by “tampering with people’s immune systems.” Meanwhile, he does not find himself wholly convinced by the companies manufacturing them: “There in the Pfizer contract, it is quite clear that they are not responsible for any side effects. If you become an alligator, it’s your problem.” At an event in Bahia, a state in the northeastern part of the country, he opted not to change his stance when asked about the events of the 17th: “we’re dealing with lives, where is our freedom?” He even alluded to some of the bans that might apply to the anti-vaxxers: “You can’t get a passport, you can’t get a driver’s license. You can be put under house arrest, look how beautiful it is. House arrest.”

And so the President of Brazil is not only encouraging his people to be cynical about vaccines, but actively warning them about the types of oppression they might face if they choose not to get one. But while it might be too far to introduce sanctions for anti-vaxxers, it might also be too far to downplay the potential of a vaccine, even if only administered to people that are more vulnerable to the different impacts of the virus.  Excluding the United States, Brazil is home to the deadliest outbreak of Covid-19. November saw the surge of a second wave, which has since caused devastation across a country deeply affected by poverty. Yet a nationwide, or even widespread lockdown is scarcely on the agenda- thanks in part to the attitude of the President- which means that other measures may be required to help those in need of support and protection.

Either way, the people of Brazil are under pressure to pick a side. The President or the Supreme Court. That both these sides are rather extreme, however, will only amplify the partisanship between the groups of people that do decide to pick one.  And if Brazil is to move forward and deal with the outbreak effectively, surely there must be a compromise between these two parties.

Zachary Liew