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15 Dec, 2021 14:14

Why don’t we introduce obesity passports?

Why don’t we introduce obesity passports?

The latest argument for vaccine passports is that we have to increase vaccine uptake to reduce pressure on the health service. By this logic, we should also consider restrictions for those who are overweight.

The initial case for vaccine passports was as follows: Since vaccination substantially reduces your chances of catching Covid, unvaccinated people should be banned from certain public locations where they might spread the virus to large numbers of others.

Aside from the threat to civil liberties, there was an obvious flaw in this argument. If the vaccines were as effective as claimed, it wouldn’t be necessary to exclude unvaccinated people, since they’d only be infecting one another. They wouldn’t be imposing an externality – to use the technical term – on the vaccinated.

In any case, the argument fell apart when it became clear that the vaccines do not substantially reduce your chance of infection. Six months after vaccination, you’re not much less likely to catch Covid than if you’d never been vaccinated. This is in contrast to those with natural immunity, who are still protected against reinfection up to a year later.

However, there’s a new argument for vaccine passports, which was laid out in a recent op-ed by the journalist Andrew Neil. This argument says we need vaccine passports to “punish” unvaccinated people for putting additional strain on the health service. And if we “punish” them, Neil claims, they might decide to go and get jabbed.

The author falls short of calling for mandatory vaccination, which he regards as “unBritish”. But he basically wants to make unvaccinated people’s lives as difficult as possible, so they eventually make the “right” choice. (Neil doesn’t explain why his alternative proposal qualifies as less “unBritish”.)

At this point, you might be wondering: how are unvaccinated people putting additional strain on the health service? The claim is that, since the vaccines do provide substantial protection against serious illness, unvaccinated people who catch Covid are more likely to end up in hospital or the ICU.

One can quibble about just how substantial this protection is – some evidence suggests it’s been overestimated. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that the vaccines do offer substantial protection against hospitalisation.

Suggesting that unvaccinated people should be punished for their “fear, ignorance, irresponsibility or sheer stupidity”, in the words of Andrew Neil, is essentially an argument for privatised healthcare. Why should people who’ve made the ‘responsible’ choice (in this case, getting vaccinated) have to pay for those who haven’t?

It’s therefore quite strange that leftists have been making similar arguments. I guess the urge to chastise your political opponents sometimes overrides your commitment to long-standing values, such as socialised healthcare…

In any case, Neil’s argument for vaccine passports gave me an idea. Why not introduce obesity passports too?

The logic is identical. Obese people have made the ‘irresponsible’ choice to become morbidly overweight, meaning they place a greater burden on the health service than the rest of us. Society should therefore take measures that might encourage them to lose weight.

How would this work in practice? Unless you could prove your BMI is less than 30 (the threshold for obesity), you’d denied entry to cafes and restaurants serving high-calorie food. “BMI of 29? Do come in, sir... BMI of 31? I’m afraid not.” Proof would constitute a doctor’s note presented as a QR code.

Instead of obesity passports, we could go one step further and impose a fine on obesity. The Greek prime minister recently announced that over-60s who remain unvaccinated will be fined €100 per month. Why not apply the same principle to other groups that put undue pressure on the health service?

Obesity passports could even help us in the fight against Covid. After all, obesity is known to be a risk factor for serious illness. In a study published earlier this year, people with a BMI over 30 were overrepresented by a factor of two among those admitted to the ICU: 49% of intensive care patients were obese, compared to 24% in the sample as a whole.

To be clear, I’m not seriously entertaining these proposals. Introducing passports or fines for the obese would be a blatant violation of their civil liberties. (As it would be for skateboarders, rugby players or people who get drunk on a Friday night – all groups which presumably have above-average hospital usage.)

The point, rather, is that health passports themselves are a bad idea. There are far better ways of encouraging people to make the ‘right’ decisions – persuasion being chief among them. I have been vaccinated, for what it’s worth. But if the next guy doesn’t want to be, the state should leave him alone.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.