Could British residents be forced to have a Covid-19 vaccine? Yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out mandatory inoculation, telling TalkRadio that the government would ‘have to watch what happens and… make judgments accordingly’. His comments have sparked questions about how realistic the prospect of mandatory vaccination is in the UK, or what restrictions people could face – with MP Tom Tugendhat suggesting that the unvaccinated could be banned from workplaces – if they refuse to get inoculated.
If a policy of mandatory vaccination were to be carried out in the UK, what might it look like? That discussion is happening in Denmark now, as the country looks to replace its emergency laws brought in this spring with a new ‘epidemic law’. The proposed legislation – which would become a permanent, rather than a temporary measure – could mandate certain people to receive a vaccine, and would allow the police to use force if necessary to administer it.
According to The Local Denmark, the most controversial elements of the law include: forcing people who test positive for ‘dangerous diseases’ to be 'medically examined, hospitalised, treated and placed in isolation'; granting the Danish Health Authority the power ‘to define groups of people who must be vaccinated in order to contain and eliminate a dangerous disease’; and coercing people who refuse to have the vaccine in certain circumstances ‘through physical detainment, with police allowed to assist’.
These clauses pose serious questions about the trade-off between individual liberty, health, privacy and the role of the state. But they are also open to wide interpretation by officials – especially when it comes to defining what is a ‘dangerous disease’ and which groups will be forced to take a vaccine.
An open consultation for the ‘epidemic law’ closed several days ago. It has faced major pushback in its current form: business groups are arguing that the legislation goes too far and there have been public protests about the threat it poses to individual rights. The law may be updated to remove some of its more controversial clauses. But the debate being carried out in Denmark is a reminder for other countries that the vaccine may be rolled-out before we find the answer to these ethical and moral quandaries.