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These countries have made vaccination compulsory – so could the UK be next?

The pros and cons of battling Omicron with a vaccine mandate

Written by
Time Out editors

Around the world, compulsory vaccination against Covid-19 is on the rise. Some countries, like Austria, Ecuador and Germany, have mandated vaccines for all citizens above a certain age, while others have focused on certain groups. Italy recently made jabs compulsory for the over-50s, while plenty of countries have mandated them for all public servants and/or health workers.

And even in countries where vaccines aren’t being directly mandated, some governments are severely reducing the freedoms of those who choose not to get a jab, with world leaders getting much more vocal about vaccines and anti-vaxxers. Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron caused a stir by saying he wanted to ‘piss off’ the unvaccinated, which probably could’ve been just un petit peu more nuanced. 

In the UK, compulsory vaccines have been in effect since November, but only for health workers. Certain venues are only allowing in jabbed guests, and some companies have mandated vaccines for their employees – though none were made to do so by the government. But if the current situation were to worsen, would (and should) the government consider mandatory vaccination? 

On the one hand, vaccines are proven to work. They drastically limit the transmission of Covid-19, so fewer people catch the virus, and they also reduce the severity of the virus if people do catch it. Vaccines reduce pressure on hospitals, so fewer people die.

The unvaccinated, however, are both more likely to spread Covid and suffer more severely from it – so are more likely to end up in hospital. According to the British Medical Journal, the vast majority of ICU beds are currently occupied by unvaccinated patients. In theory, a vax mandate would free up some of these beds and reduce some of the pressure on hospitals. 

At the moment, it seems exceptionally unlikely that the UK government would make vaccination compulsory. A vaccine mandate has not been mentioned or hinted at by Boris Johnson, his government, nor his medical advisors. The government has deemed that the current Omicron wave is not yet (and may never be) severe enough to threaten the capacity of the NHS. Today, Johnson maintained that he would stick with a ‘voluntary’ rather than a ‘coercive’ approach – but as we all know well by now, what the government says and what it does don’t always match up.

But more to the point, is compulsory vaccination actually a good idea? Well, it’s less cut-and-dry than you might think. Vaccines are irrefutably A Good Thing – but the compulsory bit is where things get a little difficult. Vaccine hesitancy often comes from a place of suspicion, for example towards medicine or the government. A government mandating compulsory vaccines, for any group, would be met with even greater suspicion, perhaps reinforcing anti-vax sentiment and resistance.

An alternative might be a policy focused more on education, emphasising the validity and accuracy of vaccine science, and combating anti-vax misinformation. A more-carrot-less-stick kind of situation.

In short, it appears exceptionally unlikely that the UK will make vaccination compulsory beyond the measures it has already taken. But what do we know? We’re Time Out. We do bars and gigs and burgers and stuff. Instead, listen to the professionals: get a jab, mask up on public transport and keeping looking out for any changes in government advice. Omicron isn’t going away soon.

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