Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s comments about Covid-19 vaccination will “cause harm”, a medical expert has claimed.
His views are “enormously influential” and could “reinforce beliefs” among people who are not as fit and healthy, according to Professor Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at the University of Oxford.
Meanwhile Health Secretary Sajid Javid suggested that the only reason Djokovic was able to return to playing tennis “and earn millions again” was because of the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Mr Javid told the BBC: “The reason that you can have once again millions of spectators for sports, including tennis, whether it’s in Australia or in the future Wimbledon, is because of the success of vaccination programmes.
“And it’s interesting to note that Mr Djokovic thinks it’s OK for sport spectators, all his fans, to take the vaccine that allows him to get back to play the sport in front of them and earn millions again, it’s OK for him to have them take the vaccine, but the vaccine is not OK for him. I think he should reflect on his decision.”
Djokovic was deported from Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open last month amid concerns about his vaccine status. The Serbian ace told the BBC he was “never against vaccination”, but insisted: “I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
Commenting on the interview, Prof Wilkinson said: “It seems to me that he doesn’t have a political agenda, that he isn’t aiming to spread his views about vaccines, but nevertheless, his views – as evidenced in this high profile interview – are enormously influential.
“So one thing which he doesn’t take into account, which I think somebody who is in the public eye should take into account, is that their behavior will influence other people.
“So if somebody who is an incredibly high-profile, high-achieving sportsman doesn’t have the vaccine and says so publicly, and there’s lots of attention to it, even if that’s not his intention, that will have the effect of supporting that those who are opposed to the vaccine.”
Prof Wilkinson added: “The fundamental ethical problem with a libertarian approach to vaccines, which is ‘my body, my decision, my choice’, is that vaccines are not just about you – they’re about all of us. Our response to infections like coronavirus is a collective response – this is something we are all in together.”
Prof Julian Savulescu, who is also based at the University of Oxford, said that the general view that people should be “free to do whatever they want with their body” was “too extreme”.
But he claimed that if Djokovic had Covid in December 2021 he posed “no greater risk than any of the other players” in the Australian Open.
Prof Savulescu added: “Personally, I think it’s absurd that somebody can’t express their views and we can have even a slightly nuanced understanding of the requirements for vaccination and its limits. And if he did indeed have natural immunity, he wasn’t a risk to other people.
“Governments have to introduce laws and mandates in times of public emergencies. But they still have an obligation to provide people with accurate information for why they’re doing it and what they’re doing. And I think his exclusion was on those grounds of public interest was absurd.”
Jonathan Ives, professor of empirical bioethics at the University of Bristol, added: “The ethically correct response to Djokovic’s comments today is not to cancel him or to try to force him to take the vaccine, it is to challenge his views, and advocate for safe and effective vaccines more strongly.”
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