Paul Huxley, of Christian Concern, explains why he believes compelled vaccinations for care workers are not justified.
The deadline has now passed for people who work in care homes to receive their first vaccination. Regulations will come into force on 11 November meaning anyone working in a care home must be fully vaccinated or clinically exempt, meaning anyone who hasn't already received their first vaccine dose is at threat of losing their job.
The government is also considering making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory in England for frontline NHS staff and care workers.
Figures suggest that around 88% of Primary Care health care workers have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. But in some regions – London, the East of England and the North West - over 15% of staff have not been vaccinated, meaning a mandatory vaccination policy will likely lead to either a frontline staffing crisis or staff being vaccinated against their will.
Serious, cogent objections
People have a wide range of reasons for rejecting vaccination. Although there are many new considerations, like the idea of vaccinating teenagers, our article from January still sums up many of the concerns people have.
Amongst those concerns is a serious ethical objection. Dave Brennan of Brephos UK, who campaigns for the church to be more vocal and active in opposing abortion, has often promoted the argument that the use of fetal cell lines in production or testing of vaccines makes them unethical. Christian Concern hosted a debate between him and Professor John Wyatt in March.
No matter where you stand on the debate, Brennan genuinely holds a serious and cogent belief that the vaccines available to us are unethical. Many others, including many Christians working for the NHS and in care, will hold similar views, even if they can't articulate them in as much depth as Brennan.
This isn't the only reason people refuse vaccinations, of course. But it's an important one for many Christians and whether we personally hold it or not, we ought to be concerned about the consciences of our fellow Christians.
Should the government compel these people to be vaccinated against their conscience?
Roger Kiska from the Christian Legal Centre explored the legality of mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports in April. He showed that compulsory vaccines are well out of step with modern practice and that the government isn't free to do whatever it wants:
"There is no doubt that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing the spread of disease and that an element of vaccinations is not only protecting those who have taken it, but also protecting third parties. However, in law, having a legitimate aim in mind does not give the government carte blanche to act, particularly where doing so has such a significant impact on personal freedoms. The legal standard then is whether the action taken by the government to infringe on certain personal rights is narrowly tailored and proportionate to the legitimate aim being sought and whether it is necessary in a democratic society."
Like with the Scottish church leaders' judicial review of a ban on gathered worship, it is not enough in law for the government to express its public health motivation when restricting human rights – it must demonstrate its necessity and proportionality.
Are vaccines necessary and proportionate?
Clearly, the government has a strong and legitimate interest in reducing the risk of Covid outbreaks in hospitals and care homes. Many of the people in these buildings are at high risk should they contract Covid-19, not to mention the staffing problems due to isolation.
But I fear that vaccination is a blunt tool to solve this problem. We understand that vaccinated people can still be infected with the virus and can still pass it on to others. What's more, unvaccinated people who have recovered from the virus may be shown to have stronger protection than those who have been vaccinated. It's impossible to know for sure how this will change if and when future variants of the virus become widespread. Perhaps booster shots will prove highly effective, perhaps they won't.
For the government not to consider natural immunity in these policies at all shows that it is vaccine uptake generally that is the goal with the policy, not strictly the wellbeing of people in hospitals and care homes. Amending these policies to recognise natural immunity is an obvious step to take if the goal really is the safety of the vulnerable and if it truly is concerned about people's consciences.
Another way the government could help address these issues is by supporting vaccines that are entirely free from the ethical concerns raised above.
The Lozier Institute provides a detailed table outlining the many vaccines in development across the world and whether they use fetal cell lines at any stage of their production. Many of them do not, including two developed and approved in China, and one in India.
Why does the government not seek to make these available for those with conscience objections to the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna jabs? I believe that many Christians would be willing to help fund an initiative like this if it were available. It may not alleviate everyone's concerns about vaccines, but if the government is serious about increasing immunity through vaccines, this is an obvious option to pursue.
The government hasn't exhausted its other options
As much as vaccines appear to have slowed the spread or severity of Covid-19 as they have been rolled out in 2021, people's objections ought to be taken seriously. Compelled vaccination should only be pursued if the government has exhausted all other public health options – which it clearly hasn't.