Coronavirus / Mandatory Vaccines

Coronavirus Vaccinations: Can I be forced to get the vaccine?

Can the Government introduce a mandatory vaccination scheme? Can I refuse a vaccination? What are the new rules for care home workers after 11 November 2021? Am I required to show proof of my vaccination status to enter certain places? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.

The information on this page was correct as of 18 February 2022 but is subject to potential changes.

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

What are mandatory vaccinations?

A mandatory vaccination scheme is where you are required by law to get vaccinated and face punishment if you do not do so.

This is different from employers requiring their staff to be vaccinated (sometimes called ‘no jab, no job’), which is discussed further below.

In England, the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 specifically prevents Ministers from creating new rules which would make vaccines mandatory. This means that any mandatory vaccination scheme would require Parliament to pass a new law. Ministers can’t just change existing regulations or introduce them using ‘statutory instruments’ (changes to the law which do not go through Parliament).

Do we have mandatory vaccination schemes in the UK?

At present, no mandatory vaccination schemes exist in the UK for the general public. This means that currently, no one can be punished, such as through being given a fine or a criminal sentence, for refusing the coronavirus vaccine.

However, there are now rules that require people to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus to carry out certain health and social care roles.

From 11 November 2021, CQC-registered care homes must deny access to anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated, with certain exceptions (including those who are medically exempt from getting the vaccine, service users of the care home, their friends or relatives and emergency services).

The law applies to all workers employed directly by the care home or care home provider, whether on a full-time or part-time basis, those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers deployed in the care home.

Similarly, anyone who enters a care home to do other work as part of their professional responsibilities – such as healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians – is restricted from entering care homes, unless they are vaccinated or medically exempt.

On 14 December 2021, MPs voted through new legislation which will extend the requirement to be double-vaccinated to all frontline health and social care workers, i.e. those whose work involves direct contact with patients. This includes NHS staff. If in force, this will require people to get their first vaccine by the 3 February so as to be fully vaccinated by the enforcement date on 1 April 2022. However, on the 31st January it was announced this measure might be revoked. The regulations will not be enforced whilst this is being decided.

Is the requirement for care home workers and frontline health and social care workers to be vaccinated lawful?

These regulations don’t technically make it mandatory for care home workers and NHS staff to be vaccinated in the sense which is prohibited by the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This is because the regulations don’t specifically require anyone to get vaccinated or make it a crime to be unvaccinated, but instead put an obligation on the care home to deny access to anyone who can’t show proof of vaccination (or who can’t show that they shouldn’t be vaccinated), and on the NHS to not deploy any health and social care workers in frontline roles if unvaccinated.

The courts haven’t fully considered whether these new rules are lawful yet. However, given the intention to protect care home residents who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, and in light of the Vavřička case and the Peters and Findlay case (see below), it is likely to be difficult to challenge these regulations on human rights grounds.

Further information and guidance on these regulations can be found here.

Do I have to show proof if I’m a friend or relative?

Friends, family (who may also be unpaid carers) and essential caregivers will not need to show proof of vaccination or medical exemption when visiting a care home.

Are all NHS staff legally required to be vaccinated?

Currently, the regulations only apply to care home workers. This means that at present, only those who are care workers are legally required to be vaccinated.

As mentioned above, the Government has introduced new legislation which will extend the requirement to be double-vaccinated to all frontline health and social care workers, which includes NHS staff working in front line roles.

However, if the new legislation is revoked, NHS staff will not legally be required to be vaccinated.

When must frontline health and social care workers be vaccinated by?

The Government has announced that there will be a 12-week grace period for all frontline health and social workers to get vaccinated. Enforcement will begin from 1 April 2022, subject to Parliamentary approval.  This means the final date for your first vaccine is the 3 February 2022.

Can I refuse a vaccine?

In most cases in the UK, patients must give their consent to any medical treatment, including vaccinations.

There are only limited situations in which you can be forced to undergo medical treatment without your consent, such as under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which provides for the treatment of people who lack the capacity to make their own decisions about care and treatment, and under the Mental Health Act 1983, whereby patients who are detained can be treated without their consent in certain cases.

Apart from these situations, any attempt to force you to take a vaccine would be a violation of your bodily autonomy and would breach human rights law and international treaties on medical treatment.

This means that, unless you lack the capacity to consent to medical treatment, you can’t be physically forced to take the vaccine.

Can I be punished for refusing a vaccine?

As mentioned above, at present, no mandatory vaccine schemes exist in the UK. This means that currently, no one can be given a penalty such as a fine or a criminal sentence for refusing to take a vaccine.

However, while the new regulations don’t technically make vaccines mandatory, they do create strong pressure for all care workers and frontline health and social workers to be fully vaccinated, by making it very difficult for them to work without this. From a legal standpoint, it seems likely that the courts would consider this pressure to be lawful under human rights law.

In April 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) confirmed in the case of Vavřička and Others v. The Czech Republic that punishment for non-compliance with a mandatory vaccination scheme (such as a fine, or stopping children from getting a place in school) were lawful under Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In order to comply with Article 8, these penalties had to be considered proportionate to protect public health and had to be introduced in law.

On the 2 November 2021, the UK High Court decided in the case R (Peters and Findlay) v Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, that the regulations requiring care homes to ensure that only individuals who have been double-vaccinated are allowed to enter was lawful under Article 8 of the ECHR, particularly in light of the ECtHR case of Vavřička. The Court determined that because the Government was protecting the right to life (Article 2) of those living in care homes, it had a lot of leeway to implement any measures and to make political and social decisions based on the evidence.

The High Court also decided that the double vaccination rule was lawful under Article 14  of the ECHR (the right to be free from discrimination). Article 14 does not provide a free-standing right to non-discrimination, but requires that people are able to enjoy all their other rights in the Convention without discrimination. The High Court found that any discrimination resulting from the regulations was justified in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the urgent requirement to protect care home residents from COVID-19.

If the regulations affecting care home workers or frontline NHS workers were further challenged in UK courts, judges would similarly have to take into account the decision of the European Court in the Vavřička case (the ECtHR is not part of the European Union, and the UK remains a member despite Brexit). The UK court would need to consider whether the requirement for care home workers and NHS staff to be vaccinated was proportionate to the aim of protecting public health.

Although the mandatory scheme in the Vavřička case is different to the one proposed for care home workers and NHS staff, the ECtHR gives governments a lot of leeway to decide how to handle their public health policy in relation to vaccines, and is supportive of a government’s interest in protecting public health. Therefore, it’s likely that these regulations wouldn’t be judged to violate human rights law in any further challenges brought in UK courts.

Am I required to get booster doses?

The current regulations don’t cover booster doses. Therefore, at present, there is no requirement for you to get booster doses. Any extension of the policy to cover booster doses would require the regulations to be amended and then approved by Parliament.

Am I required to show proof of vaccination to enter certain places?

England has returned to ‘Plan A’. This means you are no longer required to show proof of vaccination in certain places.

However, venues can choose to ask people to show an NHS Covid Pass (either in digital format or a printed copy, or you can request a Covid Pass letter). If you are vaccinated in England, your NHS Covid Pass should be updated to show this.  If you were vaccinated in another part of the UK, your equivalent digital or printed proof of vaccination will be accepted in England. If you were vaccinated abroad, you can request to have this added to your NHS Covid Pass. More information can be found here.

You can also gain an NHS Covid Pass if you have reported your negative test result to NHS Test and Trace, (which will expire 48 hours after you took the test). This is a valid NHS Covid Pass and should be possible to use for entry to venues. The NHS Covid Pass may also be used to demonstrate medical exemptions.

What is Liberty’s position on mandatory vaccination?

We all want to get out of this pandemic as soon as possible and to protect everyone along the way. However, this is a public health crisis, and the Government’s response should focus on public health rather than criminalisation. Liberty objects to mandatory vaccinations. You can find more about our position from our statement on the care home vaccines here, and our article on mandatory vaccines and passports here.

What can I do if I am concerned about the introduction of mandatory vaccines?

If you are concerned about the introduction of mandatory vaccines, you can get involved with Liberty’s policy campaigns to make sure that everyone’s rights are protected.

Additionally, you can write to your MP to express your opinion and urge them not to introduce such a scheme. Get help finding and contacting your MP here.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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