At the beginning of 2020, none of us in the UK knew about COVID-19 and we didn’t realise how dangerous this new virus – Now it is 2021 and we’re closer to ending this pandemic than we’ve ever been!
On the 2nd of December 2020, the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine available for rollout.
Since then, 2 more Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the UK (Oxford–AstraZeneca and Moderna), with more potentially on the way.
There may be some scepticism on the efficacy of the vaccines, but for most people, this news came as a big relief.
These vaccines provide a glimmer of hope for people all over the country, they are the key to getting life back to normal (or as normal as it can get).
All 3 of the vaccines approved in the UK have great levels of efficacy, with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines giving up to 95% efficiency!
This is much higher than the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, which only provides a 40-60% reduction of transmission – The COVID-19 vaccine provides a far superior protection in comparison.
How Do COVID-19 Vaccines Work?
When germs, bacteria or viruses enter the human body our immune system is triggered and begins to work on the immune response.
This response is much faster if we’ve experienced the virus/bacteria – Your immune system already knows how to fight off the germs and has memorised what kind of antibodies are needed.
COVID-19 has not been around for very long, many of us have never caught this virus before, meaning our immune response may be slow.
It can sometimes take weeks for our body to fight off new infections, which is partly why this new virus is so dangerous.
Most COVID-19 vaccines use a dead or inactive version of the virus – This makes your body produce an immune response which will make us immune for a small period of time and means if you catch COVID-19 you are far less likely to have severe symptoms. However, some vaccines use mRNA, these give your cells instructions on how to make harmless COVID proteins which your body later fights off.
The COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the UK require a second dose of the vaccine to improve how effective it is. The first dose starts off the immune response and the second dose increases the protection that the vaccine offers.
Currently, there is only 1 vaccine that does not need a second dose, but it is yet to be approved.
Can Your Employer Make You Take the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The government has made a priority list of who will be getting the vaccine first – This ensures those who are most in need of a vaccine get their first dose, giving them the protection they need.
First on the list to receive the vaccine are care home staff and residents, then all people aged over 80 and frontline workers, etc.
This list allows those who have the greatest risk from the virus to be protected and feel safer in everyday life.
Most working people are not high up on the priority list, this is because they’re much less likely to have severe symptoms and have a lower mortality rate compared to those who are older or with pre-existing medical conditions.
This vaccine has only just been rolled out, so most employers won’t have access to it until people on the priority list have had their doses. However, many employees are worried that once the vaccine regime has increased, they may be forced to take the vaccine – There are many potential issues with this.
Firstly, mandatory vaccinations infringe on our human rights; article 8 of the Europeanconvention for human rights states that we have a right to respect for our private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
If the vaccine was made mandatory for employees, this would interfere with our basic human rights which could then lead to legal proceedings.
In addition, both the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and the Coronavirus Act 2020 highlight that nobody should undergo mandatory medical treatment – This includes vaccinations!
Employers cannot make employees get vaccinated under duress, their consent needs to be informed and voluntary, meaning if you don’t want the vaccine you don’t have to get it.
However, employers could encourage their employees to get vaccinated once the vaccine is available to the wider public.
For example, staff could be refused entry to certain sites/areas of the workplace or even denied certain roles if they have not received the vaccine.
Employers have a duty of care for their employee’s health and safety and are well within their right to refuse staff entry or job roles, this is because it may be unsafe for the staff who decide not to get vaccinated.
Additionally, employers could start the disciplinary path if an employee repeatedly refused to be vaccinated if it affects their job role/performance.
Although, if the employee is refusing due to a religious/philosophical belief or a disability and disciplinary action is taken, the employee can file a discrimination claim or unfair dismissal.
Workers who do not want to take the vaccine (e.g. anti-vaxxers, certain religious groups, etc) are currently covered under the Equality Act (2010).
This means these groups of people have legal protection if their employer decided to insist on vaccinations (If you need help with equality, diversity and discrimination training, click here!).
Most vaccinations use gelatine which is derived from pigs, this could cause issues with many groups including followers of Judaism, Islam and vegans/vegetarians.
These groups have valid and justified reasons as to why they do not want to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations, it would cost employers a lot of money on legal fees if they were to try to make the vaccine compulsory.
The issue of employers insisting on COVID-19 vaccinations is a moral and ethical dilemma, with no clear answer.
On the one hand, employers should look after their staff and encourage them to be as safe as possible; but on the other hand, staff must be able to make their own choice, even if employers do not agree with it.
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