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Vaccine mandates need a clear rationale to identify which exemptions are appropriate
  1. Bridget Williams
  1. Center for Population-Level Bioethics, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bridget Williams, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA; bwilliams{at}

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The rapid development and roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines has been a surprising success of the pandemic and has likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Although most people were eager to receive a vaccine, many jurisdictions introduced mandates to ensure rapid uptake in the population, especially among key workers including healthcare workers. In some instances, individuals who can prove they have recovered from COVID-19 have been exempt from vaccine mandates, but in other cases such exemptions have not been made. Pugh et al argue that such exemptions for those already immune ought to be included in COVID-19 vaccine mandates.1 They review the evidence on infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity and show that that there is not evidence that vaccines offer better protection against severe COVID-19 or of SARS-CoV-2 infection (and subsequently risk of transmission). They argue that to treat people differently based on the source of their COVID-19 immunity (vaccine-induced or infection-induced) is wrongful discrimination, with this discrimination bringing harms in the form of unjust restriction of liberty and negative consequences such as lost employment.

I agree with Pugh et al’s view that, given the available evidence, infection-induced immunity to SARS-CoV-2 ought to be treated as equivalent to vaccine-induced immunity for the purposes of most COVID-19 vaccine mandates. However, their article highlights the need for clarity in the rationale for mandates. This clarity is necessary to be able to identify when exemptions are appropriate. It may be the case that in some instances infection-induced immunity ought not to be grounds for exemption. Pugh et al’s argument also suggests that collection of data on infection-induced immunity may be a requirement for ethical vaccine mandates. To be confident in such exemptions, we need evidence (or a clear rationale) that infection-induced immunity is comparable to vaccine-induced immunity in the …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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