The specter of a knock-at-the-door has led to questions about privacy and government coercion.
Britain’s vaccine minister has suggested a very personal way (that some might consider invasive) of convincing people to take a COVID-19 vaccine: sending people from local governments to knock on their doors.
According to the Times, Nadhim Zahawi, 53, the U.K.’s minister for COVID-19 vaccine deployment, stated last week that he wanted local governments, called “councils” in the U.K., to send people door to door, first to make sure that all elderly people know they can be vaccinated, and then to convince those who refuse to take it to change their minds. The minister hopes to offer the COVID vaccine to everyone aged 70 and older by February 15.
The specter of a knock-at-the-door has led to questions about privacy and government coercion. In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Zahawi confirmed that the names of everyone inoculated against the virus are recorded by the national immunization system. He would not confirm that the names of people who have refused to take it are being recorded, but he did not rule it out, either. When asked if the government should record this information, he said, “So we absolutely will look at how we are addressing the issue of refusal rates.”
“At the moment, this is the highest uptake of any vaccination programme, including all the flu vaccination programmes, that [the] NHS has run.”
Approximately 85% of people who are offered the vaccine accept it. However, there is some handwringing among the authorities because of the 15% who refuse. A large number belong Britain’s “BAME” (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) communities. In addition, 20% of “social care staff” — like state-funded care workers who visit the elderly at home — are also reluctant to take the vaccine. There is overlap in the two groups: Last year it was estimated that 22% of social workers for children and 25% of care workers for adults belonged to ethnic minorities.
According to the Guardian, a total of 9,508,006 COVID-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and February 3. First doses numbered 9,041,835, and 466,171 were the second dose. Two doses are being touted as the most effective use of the vaccines.
The three vaccines approved for use in the U.K. are produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Moderna. It is not legal in the United Kingdom to compel anyone to take any one of these vaccines, but there are concerns that employers will begin to compel their employees to take it.
The U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance, the Workers of England Union, and Lawyers for Liberty have all signed an open letter condemning such coercion by employers as unlawful.
“It is an established principle in English Law that an individual with the capacity to consent cannot and should not be compelled to have any medical treatment against their wishes,” they wrote.
“The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (section 45E) provides that Regulations made under certain sections of that Act ‘may not include provision requiring a person to undergo medical treatment … ‘Medical treatment’ includes vaccinations and other prophylactic treatment,’” they continued.
Furthermore, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed Resolution number 2361 of 2021 on 27 January 2021, in which it was stated that [the Assembly urges member States and the European Union to]:
6.1 Paragraph 7.3.1 – ensure that citizens are informed that the vaccination is NOT mandatory and that no one is politically, socially, or otherwise pressured to get themselves vaccinated, if they do not wish to do so themselves;
6.2 Paragraph 7.3.2 – ensure that no one is discriminated against for not having been vaccinated, due to possible health risks or not wanting to be vaccinated[.]
“We would argue that this principle, enshrined in our domestic law, would make it inequitable and potentially unlawful for any employer to seek to mandate the vaccine,” the organizations stated.
The United Kingdom, though no longer part of the European Union, is still a member state of the Council of Europe.
The U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance, the Workers of England Union, and Lawyers for Liberty pointed out in their letter that there is not enough evidence that the vaccines prevent serious illness and death or that they do not cause “late-onset side effects.” They also observe that there is no proof as yet that vaccination prevents the transmission of COVID and note that the government has advised those who accept it to continue to maintain social distance and to wear masks.
Meanwhile, state employees are already being sent door-to-door in some areas in England to test residents for the so-called South African variant of COVID-19. Council workers in protective clothing have been going to homes to hand residents self-testing kits, one per member of the household aged 16 or over. The residents are expected to swab themselves, put the stick in a vial of preserving fluid, package the vial and hand it to the council workers upon their return.