Last month it was reported that the Secretary of State for Health, whilst being interviewed, refused to rule out the possibility of compulsory vaccination for Coronavirus. This week the newly appointed minister with special responsibility for the vaccine programme suggested instead, that having the vaccine would be a ‘passport’ to being able to do things that might otherwise be denied -such as visiting a pub, cinema, or using public transport.
For months worried constituents have been contacting me to voice their fears that vaccination would be compulsory. I have responded by saying that they should not worry because it is unthinkable.
Under existing law it would constitute an assault: So primary legislation in Parliament would be required to enable it, and that in my estimate a majority would not be found for such a radical departure. It would set a worrying precedent for other vaccines, medicines and medical procedures.
I expect however, that the concept of a vaccination certificate being used as a passport to freedoms and opportunities which would otherwise be denied, might be more palatable -superficially at least.
It might be done by statute setting out what may or may not be done without having had the vaccination. Or it might be left to the discretion of operators and proprietors whether to admit non-vaccinated patrons to their venues and services.
It raises an interesting philosophical question which is by no means new: Are our rights fundamental and absolute, or are they to be balanced by our responsibilities to society at large through some legislative process, democratic or otherwise?
If you take the latter view you might conclude that a citizen has a responsibility be vaccinated to protect the community as a whole, and if that responsibility is not accepted, then it would be reasonable to withhold rights and freedoms.
I have often had to produce my Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to enter those countries where it is a legal requirement.
There does seem to me however, to be something repugnant about being coerced into having a medical procedure, it would certainly be a departure from long established limits.
There is however, a practical solution without troubling the philosophers. The herd immunity that vaccination promotes can be achieved with vaccination rates that fall well short of everyone having had the jab. We should be able to make the vaccine effective whilst tolerating the non-cooperation of conscientious objectors.
Overwhelmingly, most of us will have the jab because we recognise that it is in our own self-interest, as well as the interests of everyone else.
As I said in the Commons, there are ways of promoting the vaccine without any need to coerce: line up the PM, ministers and all their loved ones to take it first, demonstrating the confidence of our rulers in its safety. Second, mount a public information campaign, fronted by our most popular celebrities and personalities.
The last thing you should contemplate is coercion of any kind. Nothing could be more calculated to play into the hands of the conspiracy theorists. It would end horribly with public disorder on a scale with which we have hitherto been relatively unfamiliar.
Happily, it appears that the minister who suggested vaccination as ‘passport’ appears to have been slapped down, but I’ll remain vigilant.