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? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.
The information on this page was correct as of 16 September 2021 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 is required by law to get vaccinated and no one can be punished for refusing to take a coronavirus vaccine.
However, the Government has recently amended the law in relation to CQC-registered care homes. From 11 November, these care homes will have to deny access to anyone who isn’t vaccinated, with certain exceptions (including those who can’t be vaccinated for clinical reasons, service users of the care home, their friends or relatives and emergency services).
The new law will apply 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 – will also be restricted from entering care homes, unless they are vaccinated or medically exempt.
Is the requirement for care home workers to be vaccinated lawful?
These regulations don’t technically make it mandatory 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).
The courts haven’t 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 (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 new regulations only apply to care home workers. This means that at present, only those who are care workers are legally required to be vaccinated.
However, the Government has announced that it will launch a new public consultation on making COVID-19 and flu vaccination mandatory for everyone working in healthcare and the wider social care sector. Therefore, please note that this situation might change.
When must care workers be vaccinated by?
The Government has provided a 16-week grace period for care workers to get vaccinated. Please see below for the crucial dates that care workers should be aware of:
- 22 July: the grace period began.
- 16 September: the last date for care workers to get their first dose to make sure they are fully vaccinated by the time regulations come into force.
- 11 November: the regulations come into force. Care workers need to be fully vaccinated by this date.
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 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 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life). 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.
If the care homes regulations were challenged in UK courts, judges would 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 care homes scheme 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 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 the care home regulations wouldn’t be judged to violate human rights law.
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.
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
Did you find this content useful?
Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not