Covid-19 Vaccinations- Should it be compulsory?
I had the pleasure of listening to a talk given by Prof. Helen Bedford and others, in a talk organised by 7 Bedford Row Chambers on the subject of vaccinations and Covid-19 immunisation.
On the subject of take up there could be many reasons as to why some people may not feel comfortable having a vaccination. This could be due to previous experience, lack of safety information, cultural beliefs, fear due to other reasons, such as language barrier, pregnant women or stories of blood clots caused by one of the vaccinations.
It is of course nothing short of a miracle that we have a Covid-19 vaccinations, so the scientist and medical professionals need to be congratulated on achieving this feat. Usually, it takes years to develop a vaccination. Around 50 million people in UK have had the vaccination but I want to talk about whether this should be compulsory or not, and if it is made compulsory, what are implications on human rights.
The distribution of vaccinations is an issue as there needs to be balance between those who are extra vulnerable vs those countries and people who have not been offered the vaccination. Should a third dose be introduced when people in poorer countries have not had even one dose?
Vaccinations appears to be the only way forward out of this pandemic but there is a disparity. Since the start of the pandemic, the medical professionals have learnt from the initial period and treatment has improved, and so has the survival chances. The introduction of Dexamethasone, an existing drug is said to aid the recovery of some Covid-19 patients.
The vaccinations are improving people’s chances of fighting a further infection, that along with taking good care such as eating sensibly and regular exercise helps with the immune but the elderly as well as vulnerable will be relying on others to care for their wellbeing and many will have co-morbidities.
On the Human rights issue, should mandatory vaccinations be introduced? There will be conscientious objectors and there will be legal challenges. We do not have compulsory vaccinations at present in the UK but if passed how would this sit with our human rights?
The Government has recently published a consultation paper to make employees in care home settings have mandatory vaccinations, and to amend the Health and Social Care Act. This could get around the Human Rights issue, as this would be on the basis that mandatory vaccinations are needed in the interest of public health. With regards to care homes and nursing homes where they have one adult over age of 65, if enacted the law will require all workers to be vaccinated. Exceptions would be limited on clinical grounds, pregnant workers are thought to be exempt. For people who didn’t want to have the vaccinations they could lose their jobs. Other European states appear to be working along these lines but not all countries.
The Government is likely to make some changes to table this legislation. Over the years there have been huge developments in the law on human rights. Recently there was a case in the Czech Republic where parents went to court as they objected to their children being required to have vaccinations This case is unrelated to the pandemic and pre-dates the pandemic.
The law was that children should be vaccinated and non- vaccinated children would not be accepted in school. This was a criminal offence if parents did not comply. The application went to European court of Human Rights, with submissions from various anti-vaccine groups and those in favour of mandatory vaccinations.
Whether a law amounts to an infringement of human rights the test in simple terms is, was there an interference of human rights ? and if yes, was the interference justified?
The court held the it was a legitimate aim to protect the children and require mandatory vaccinations for their wellbeing. The court recognised there was an obligation on the state to act in the best interest of the child. Interference of the rights for the benefit of wider protection was seen to be proportionate and justified. The Court also noted the negative outcomes for the children were minimal and the fines imposed on parents for not having their children were low. It was held by the higher Court that there was no breach of Article 8 and the Czech Republic were entitled to proceed. The Court also held there was no interference under Article 9. It should be noted there was no religious element to this case.
There will be cases if the government brings in compulsory vaccinations for workers in care home settings, as those who object may lose their jobs. The trend is in favour of it being compulsory on grounds of public health, so this is a likely possibility. The Covid-19 vaccination is relatively new compared to established vaccinations in use for many years, so it is difficult to say which way the Court will decide.
If there were a religious belief then it will be interesting to see how this fairs against the argument of the wider public health benefit.
There could also be legal challenges in respect of vaccine passport as this is currently being considered.
Time will tell how this unfolds. However, we need to see how the Courts will manage the difficult balance between respecting individual human rights against the public health argument. All of this is set against what appears to be a be a ‘deadly’ virus and a serious pandemic which has costs the lives of many. The arguments for and against will no doubt continue for some time to come!
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This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.
Published by: Daxa Patel
Partner & Solicitor
IMD Solicitors LLP