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Insight Project Debate Series with Street Law – Should the Covid-19 Vaccination be Legally Required?

Updated: Mar 23, 2021


On the 9th March the Insight Project hosted their second event in the debate series with Street Law. This is the second installment where our members were able to release their intellectual license and discuss whether there should be a legal requirement to take the Covid-19 vaccination.

There is a great deal of coverage in the media at the time of this debate regarding the effectiveness and safety of these vaccinations. We therefore felt it was important to have this discussion to educate ourselves and others on all sides of the argument and to be respectful of these ideas in discussion.

Insight Project Debate Series with Street Law– Should the Covid-19 Vaccination be Legally Required?

To start off, the general question of the subject matter was asked to the participants to get their initial responses. It was clear from the beginning that the focus would be around the inability to utilise consent and the need for greater education.

Initial arguments were structured on how fundamental consent is in society, people should be allowed to choose to have the vaccination and choose to not have it. There is genuine concern within communities over the safety and to impose a mandatory vaccination would only heighten these concerns but also create even more social divisions in an already divided society. The proposed solution would be based around education. To spend more money and time into developing resources which would be accessible by all so people were able to make an informed decision based on all the facts surrounding the effects of having the vaccination, and the possible consequences of refusal.

A bigger-picture approach was also taken, the idea that it would be more beneficial for everyone to take the vaccination due to the numbers of deaths seen all over the world, this would take priority over individual beliefs which would make people more inclined to refuse the vaccine. For example, believers in self-medication and natural healing would be required to put aside their independent beliefs for the benefit of the greater society.

An interesting position was brough up surrounding those working in social care and with vulnerable people. It was suggested that there should be a mandate imposed on these individuals because of the people that they work with. This brings interesting questions to mind as to where the line would be. A social worker caring for the elderly are in contact with people suffering vulnerabilities throughout their working days, therefore they would be required to take the vaccination to protect themselves and the people they work with. However, would an individual working in a local shop, who sees numerous people a day, and has that same contact with other people with vulnerabilities, be required to take the vaccination? If there is to be a separation between some employment sectors who should impose a mandatory vaccine, and those where it would be up to personal discretion, there has to be a line drawn. But where would this be?

What would happen where it was made a mandatory requirement for individuals working in the social care sector but there is an individual who is allergic to a component of the vaccine? they therefore decide not to take this, what would happen to them? Consideration would have to be made for these people and the wider the jurisdiction of the mandate, the more people who would require exemptions. This raises further questions of exemption fraud and enforcement.

It was clear by the suggestions put forward that having a mandatory vaccination either on a national scale or determined by employment sector would take a lot of work, and there would need to be a lot of time put into the considerations outlined previously. An alternative approach would be to focus that time and effort into developing materials which can educate the public. Currently it is widely understood that there several BAME communities who are reluctant to take the vaccination offer, some of the perceived reasoning for this is the lack of trust in the manufacture of the treatment. A way of combatting this would be to create and distribute content that allows for these concerns to be explained and questions to be answered. This is more likely to be a more practicable and time-efficient way of increasing the number of people who take the vaccine.

In discussing the need for education and clarity over the use of the vaccinations, it was suggested that one of the root causes for the reluctance is the content seen on social media. Social media platforms have undertaken some responsibility for quashing much of the noise on this by providing fact-check warnings on content that mentions Covid-19, much like that which was seen on some of Donald Trump’s Tweets. However, was this action taken too late? It is already known that there are social media forum groups where people discuss the negative impacts of the vaccine and more extremely, the idea that Covid-19 is a hoax. Should these groups used to share information in a safe space be closed down or monitored, what sort of impact would this have on the freedom of speech?

In regard to the way in which social media has impacted the perception of the Covid-19 vaccination, the impact of the viewers age was emphasised. Those of an older age demographic have been more likely to see content about its negative implications creating fear and reluctance. Younger demographics have been more exposed to positive content, such as the platform TickTock showing videos of the manufacture of the vaccinations and what is in them. Younger people are therefore more likely to see the information surrounding the good a vaccination will bring to communities, individuals, and the end of the pandemic. Whereas slightly older groups of people are more likely to see content on theories labelled as conspiracies such as the vaccination being a way for the Government to extend its control of citizens.

Example of previous mandatory vaccination roll outs were used to consider if there would be any positives in a mandating the Covid-19 vaccine. The 1905 vaccination roll out in Massachusetts was considered successful because diseases such as hepatitis decreased, and it was imposed amongst people of all communities with a small number of exemptions. However, it was quickly called out that a vaccination mandate in 1905 would be very different to that in 2021 as society is more aware of liberal rights and autonomy. Additionally, there is the difference in the length of time that the two vaccines have been recognised, the Covid-19 vaccine was introduced within only a year of the disease being discovered, this speed is not reflected in the example provided, and so it is was suggested that it would be unfair to conclude this vaccine be made mandatory because a roll out over 100 years ago proved somewhat successful.

The implications of a mandatory vaccine were argued to be seen in every walk of working life. The laws surrounding the consent to medical treatment would have to change, thus impacting the medical and legal profession. The legal sector would see monumental changes and a potentially dangerous level of unprecedented stretching of current powers. Enforcing individuals to have a vaccine would breach and interfere with several human rights, a big issue relating to this is around employment. The ability of an employer to refuse a job opportunity to someone based on their vaccine preference is a very controversial but also a very real conversation that is needed. Current law protects the employees from employers who could be attempting to unfairly dismiss or reject them, where the laws changed to allow for an objection based on vaccine preference it would stretch these boundaries so wide that there is a danger that employers could easily discriminate against others. Is it feasible that the country can adapt to such changes alongside the divisions already seen around the vaccine?

The conversation then turned to what would happen if the mandate were introduced nationally and even internationally, how would this impact society? The argument was raised that nationally there is already divisions based on socio-economic status, for a mandate to be enforced with the use of financial penalties for refusal could see that division worsen. Internationally there are many rural areas where the access to resources is limited, and so this would leave the “first-world” countries being able to supply their population with a mandatory vaccination to help save their lives, whereas the “third-world” countries would be left suffering with potentially ever-increasing death tolls, and where financial penalties were imposed, they would also be left with a mounting debt.

Concluding the debate summary points were asked from members, similar arguments that introduced the discussion were seen toward the end but with further consideration to the wider impact on society.

At the end we were able to understand both side of the argument and just how sensitive this topic if for many people.

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