18 Jan Will the Covid-19 Vaccine be mandatory?
Across the globe governments and employers are grappling with the idea of mandating compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations with the aspiration of achieving ‘herd immunity’ against the pandemic.
As appealing as the concept of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations might be to various governments and some employers, unilaterally mandating compulsory vaccination faces a multitude of hurdles including issues of human rights, its intersection with cultural or religious beliefs or placing people with existing underlying health conditions at risk.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Melbourne radio Station 3AW that a COVID-19 vaccine would be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it” there was predictably an immediate backlash from various interest groups. A few hours later, on another radio station, Mr Morrison made a complete U-Turn and stated that “It’s not going to be compulsory to have the vaccine”.
Clearly, compulsory vaccination is a thorny issue. In the USA, front-line workers and healthcare workers who are at risk of having their employment terminated, are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In the US state of Ohio, it’s estimated that 60% of nursing home workers declined to get the vaccine. US employment laws provide employers with a lot more latitude in issues of employment law than you would find under Australian conditions. Nonetheless, from a practical standpoint, US employers will likely find that choosing to force their employees to be vaccinated will prove to be counter productive and lead to much unpleasantness, particularly where employees flatly refuse.
In Australia, the question of compulsory vaccination is at best, murky. It’s unclear whether the Federal Government has the authority to mandate compulsory vaccination. An expert in Health Law and Ethics was quoted as saying that “The Commonwealth may or may not have the legislative power to pass such a law”. Each state and territory have the primary responsibility for public healthcare, and each could independently impose compulsory vaccination, however, there are currently no laws that specifically support a population-wide mandate for compulsory vaccination. Given the response that the Prime Minister’s initial comments received, it would be a brave Premier or Chief Minister who applied such a mandate within their state or territory.
Let’s face it, a one size fits all approach is unlikely to be workable. However, remember that in much the same way as the events of 2020 could not have been predicted, should Australia’s relative immunity from the worst effects of the pandemic drastically change, there may be a rapid shift of public opinion towards the need for a more stringent vaccination regime to avoid the levels of infection currently being experienced in other parts of the world.
So, it seems that in the foreseeable future, the question of whether you vaccinate against COVID-19 or don’t, will remain a matter of personal conviction and conscience.
The & Legal team continues to monitor the potential impact of legal and regulatory changes in response to COVID-19 and can assist you should you require.