When US President Joe Biden announced sweeping measures earlier this month to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for around 100 million people, he said the country’s “patience” had worn thin. An estimated 80 million Americans who can get vaccinated still refuse to do so. “Your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said, referring to the rise in cases and deaths from the more-virulent Delta variant. The same frustration is playing out in Singapore , an island slightly smaller than New York City, where some 82 per cent of the eligible population are vaccinated, leaving an estimated 500,000 people who are choosing not to get jabbed. Public disgruntlement against the unvaccinated is growing, for they are seen as delaying the city state’s full economic reopening and potentially overloading the health care system if they catch Covid-19. In recent weeks, there has been discussion on whether Singapore should make the jabs mandatory – especially for the elderly, of which an estimated 87,000 or so remain unvaccinated, according to a Reuters report. Infectious-diseases experts interviewed by the media are largely supportive of such a move, even as they acknowledge it would be politically challenging to make the Covid-19 jab compulsory. Indonesia is probably the only country that has pledged to punish all those who refuse vaccinations, but since the government’s announcement in February it’s unclear how well this rule has been enforced, given that the country still faces vaccine shortages. Malaysia , where 80 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated, is considering making vaccines compulsory for public servants – with those who refuse facing punishment. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the topic of broad vaccine mandates has not really come up as most countries focus on boosting inoculation rates. Myanmar’s shadow government plans US$300 million vaccination drive A Covid-19 vaccine mandate in Singapore would not be entirely out of line given that diphtheria and measles vaccinations for children are already legally required. Proponents have also pointed to existing tough rules in the city state that prize collective responsibility and social cohesion over personal liberties as a precedent. But it would be ironic if a broad vaccine mandate garnered widespread support, given that citizens have often chafed at what they see as an overly paternalistic government inclined to use legal tools to shape the private lives of residents. So far, the Singapore government has not indicated it plans to make vaccinations compulsory. For countries like Thailand and the Philippines , where millions buoyed by intense anti-vaccine propaganda have refused to get jabbed, a broad vaccine mandate would only harden the intransigence. Making vaccinations compulsory would detract from ongoing efforts to correct misinformation and pit citizens against the authorities in a battle over rights, when really, the point of vaccinations is to secure public health and reopen economies. Governments also need to be mindful of the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on millions who have suffered job losses, the deaths of loved ones and the fallout from movement restrictions, and not add to this burden by forcing people to get jabbed. Singapore’s Covid-19 surge threatens to overwhelm its hospital services The best approach for Asian governments and companies is to make the case for vaccine mandates that target high-risk workers or sectors, and arrive at a fair and firm system of penalties for those who are not medically exempt from jabs. In Hong Kong , where the vast majority of elderly citizens continue to refuse vaccinations, civil servants, teachers and health care workers have been told to get jabbed or pay for regular testing. In France , eligible health care workers must be jabbed or face suspension without pay. As more regional economies abandon a “ zero-Covid ” approach in realisation that there is no choice but to learn to live with the virus, expect the conversation around the extent of vaccine mandates to gain momentum.