To be honest, it’s hard to understand where the present panic in some quarters about mandatory vaccinations for Covid 19 has come from. No elected Government, facing into an election at some point in the next five years, is going to want images on the television of policemen dragging four year old girls from their mother’s arms and forcibly injecting them with a syringe full of vaccine. From a political perspective alone, mandatory vaccination is a fever dream. But some people are dreaming it, and Boris Johnson has had to rule it out anyway. He did so at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday:
Boris Johnson reassures MPs that take-up of the vaccine will be not be obligatory.
"No part or ambition of this country to make vaccines mandatory – that's not how we do things."
— Pippa Crerar (@PippaCrerar) December 2, 2020
Irish readers can relax too. There’s not a hope in hell that the vaccine will be made mandatory here, either.
The reasons are actually fairly simple: It’s highly unlikely even to be a conversation in six or eight months, once the voluntary vaccination programme has come to an end. If the vaccine works, then by late summer next year, we’ll be in a position where something like 70% of the population, and probably more than that, will have taken the vaccine voluntarily. If the vaccine does what it’s supposed to do, that will provide the functional equivalent of herd immunity in the population.
Between now and then, the struggle won’t be getting people to take the vaccine. It will be producing and shipping and storing enough of the vaccine to keep up with demand for it. There’s far more likely to be political controversy about people wanting the vaccine and not being able to get it than there is about people not wanting it and being forced to take it. This is because of the simple reason that it is logistically challenging to produce enough of it in a short period of time, schedule the appointments, and so on.
If we reach July next year and half the public have been vaccinated, then that will be a major political and administrative success. And there’ll still be people queuing up to take it, at that point. The question of making it mandatory won’t arise, until, at the very earliest, this time next year.
But what about the other way in which the vaccine might become compulsory – for planes, and restaurants, and all of that stuff? Well, it’s a similar problem.
The rollout of the vaccine will take so long that any business that made the vaccine mandatory in, say, January, for customers, would find itself with hardly any customers. Not because of some principled revolt by anti-vaxxers, but because very few people who want to take the vaccine will have been able to get their hands on it.
And if the vaccine actually works, then by July or August, when vaccinated people make up a critical mass of the population, Covid infections should have dropped so low that it’s no longer a consideration for most businesses.
The other issue is that both Governments and Private businesses who did seek to go down the road of mandatory vaccination would be inviting, in all likelihood, expensive and torturous litigation. In the case of private businesses, it’s likely that they’d be facing lawsuits both on discrimination and on privacy, on the basis that an airline, for example, has no right to discriminate against you based on your medical history, and no right to force you to reveal your medical history to begin with. Even if they were to win such a case, it would probably end up going the whole way, in the case of Ireland, to the European Courts, which is a very expensive prospect for your average cinema or restaurant. And what do they stand to gain? A few favourable tweets from people who can’t stand anti-vaxxers, is the answer. It’s probably not worth it.
And what of Government? What if they did try to make the vaccine compulsory? Again, they’d be facing an almost certain injunction pending legal action. It could take years for the various courts to rule on the constitutional issues involved, but there’s probably a good reason that no vaccine has been made compulsory to date – even the really sensible ones, like those against Measles, Mumps, and the rest of it.
So anti-vaxxers can probably sleep easily. If the vaccine works, they’ll get the benefit of it anyway, through the herd immunity it provides. And the fever dreams about people forcibly injecting microchips into the public can move on to the next unlikely scenario in which that could conceivably happen.