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 rules for care home workers? Am I required to show proof of my vaccination status anywhere? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here.

The information on this page was correct as of 18 August 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’).

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?

No mandatory vaccination schemes exist in the UK. This means that no one can be punished by the state for refusing a vaccine, including the coronavirus vaccine.

Are all care home or NHS staff legally required to be vaccinated?

The previous regulations requiring care home staff to be vaccinated against coronavirus have been repealed. The planned regulations to require other NHS staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus were also repealed.

Note that NHS trusts may have their own policies relating to vaccinations for their staff. This could relate to non-coronavirus vaccinations. As with other ‘no jab, no job’ policies, this is an element of employment law. Employment law is not an area which we have expertise in.

If you are concerned that an employer is asking you to be vaccinated, we would recommend approaching a solicitor with expertise in employment law. You can also contact the Acas advice service for information on employment law and dispute resolution.

Can I refuse a vaccine?

In most cases in the UK, patients must give their consent to any medical treatment, including vaccinations. This is true for any vaccination, not just coronavirus.

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.

Were the coronavirus vaccine requirements legal?

While the regulations didn’t technically make vaccines mandatory, they did 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. The courts found this pressure to be lawful under human rights 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. The judge stated that the regulations did not make the vaccination mandatory. Instead, they allowed the individual to make their own decision about vaccination, but created an additional consequence for that decision. The judge also stated that the regulations were lawful under Article 8 of the ECHR (the right to respect for private and family life), particularly in light of the ECtHR case of Vavřička.

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.

The judge also determined that because the Government was protecting Article 2 (the right to life) 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 pandemic as it was required to protect the lives of others, especially the urgent requirement to protect care home residents from COVID-19.

Am I required to show proof of vaccination anywhere?

You are no longer required by law to show proof of vaccination in most 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). In addition, some countries may still require proof of entry to travel there.

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.

What is Liberty’s position on mandatory vaccination?

We all wanted to get out of the pandemic as soon as possible and to protect everyone along the way. However, a pandemic is a public health crisis, and the Government’s response should focus on public health rather than criminalisation.

Liberty objects to all 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.

What are my rights on this?

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

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