The UK government has confirmed that vaccination jab against COVID-19 and its mutations will be voluntary but what choice will individuals really have in their quest for “normality”?

For the 75% of the UK population who are active in the workplace, the Government’s announcement that COVID-19 vaccination is to be ‘voluntary’ has little practical significance. Whilst it is anticipated that most people are quite happy to be vaccinated – presumably because they see it as the most sensible and quickest way out of what has been the most significant intrusion on civil liberties and freedoms since the Second World War – the reality is that for many workers, there will be no real ‘choice’ because once the current vaccine roll-out is complete, employers will be able to decide whether to make vaccination compulsory as a condition of engagement.

That said, it won’t always be down to employer’s own choice: many businesses provide services that require their staff to visit customer premises and it may be the customer who insists upon all visitors to its premises to produce a vaccination certificate. For example, the owner of a plumbing business may be “pro- choice” only to be forced to compel vaccination because its major customers happen to be in the care home sector and therefore demand it as a condition of entry onto its premises.

No jab. No job raises human rights issues reminiscent of recent arguments concerning employer policies on drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.  In extreme cases, principally in the United States, the employer makes it a contractual obligation that for the duration of the employment, the employee must consume no alcohol or recreational drugs whatsoever. These employers will not hesitate to impose random and intrusive testing upon their workforce with dismissal facing anyone who breaks the rules. Such a draconian approach tends to reflect the moral stance of those imposing the ban rather than issues of public safety. In the UK, companies have adopted a less extreme approach, balancing health and safety requirements and professionalism as against an individual’s freedom of choice to do what they want away from the workplace.

Compulsory vaccination is different, however. Whereas traditionally the question relates to preventing workers from ingesting substances generally regarded as “bad for you”, vaccination involves the introduction of an alien substance into the body in a situation where the long-term effects of such a substance are not known and, where introduced against the subject’s will, constitutes a physical and even mental assault upon the person. The “no jab no job” brigade would argue that compulsory vaccination is for the greater protection of all. However, without reliable data to prove that vaccination prevents transmission (as opposed merely to preventing severe illness), there is no logic behind that argument. If transmissibility is unaffected by vaccination, then those refusing the vaccine are placing only themselves at greater risk, not others, and hence the issue ought to remain one of personal choice akin to the seasonal flu jab.

Ultimately, to jab or not to jab may be a question beyond the government’s control. Other nations are considering the introduction of so-called vaccine passports as a condition of entry of foreign nationals to their territory. Were, for instance, the EU to take this step, it would severely curtail the travel plans of any UK national who had refused the vaccination. For these people, limited job opportunities and Summer holidays in sun-drenched Blackpool beckon.

This blog was written by:  Mark Higgins 

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