By Maxwell Livesey, Third Year, Law
Vaccines have arrived, and so too has the renewed hope of the pandemic’s end. As more and more people are receiving the Covid-19 vaccine each day, a return to normality draws ever nearer.
As of 12th February, more than 14 million people have received a first dose of a vaccine in the UK. In the light of the vaccine rollout underway in the UK, students can start to think about a life free of lockdowns, social distancing and wearing masks, and get back to in-person teaching, socialising and perhaps even nights out.
However, to get to this point we need to reach heard immunity, which will only happen a high percentage of the population is immunised. Whilst vaccination is not at present legally mandated, without enough uptake, herd immunity will not be achieved, and normality and safety will not be restored.
However, while vaccines are the solution, that does not mean they should be mandatory on university campuses. For one, students are very likely to take the vaccine without it being mandated by universities.
A series of surveys of 5,114 people in the UK conducted by professors at the University of Oxford, found that 72 percent of those surveyed were willing to be vaccinated and only 12 percent were likely to delay or avoid the vaccine.
While some vaccine scepticism remains, this is likely to decrease over time, as more people receive the vaccine and government campaigns aimed at increasing vaccine uptake roll out. The implications of mandating vaccination for students are not worth a potentially marginal increase in uptake, as it appears highly likely already that the majority of people will take the vaccine.
Requiring people to be vaccinated infringes on an individual’s autonomy
The decision on whether to require students and staff to be vaccinated on university campuses ultimately leads to a collision between respecting the autonomy and rights of individuals or protecting the health and safety of the community.
Universities not only want to, but also have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their students and staff. Irrespective of this, requiring people to be vaccinated infringes on an individual’s autonomy, and cannot be justified given that there are other ways of protecting the community, such as the wearing of masks and social distancing.
Only a minority of students and staff at universities are likely to be classed as vulnerable. Those who are vulnerable will also be able to benefit from the protections provided from vaccinating themselves, and the herd immunity gained from the majority of people who are likely to take the vaccine regardless of whether it is made mandatory or not.
There may still be strong ethical reasons for mandating the vaccine on university campuses though. For one, it is not a burdensome procedure for an individual and it would prevent harm to individuals through bringing the pandemic to an end. However, these reasons are already likely to incline students and staff alike to take the vaccine without force from universities across the UK.
Social pressure is also likely to increase vaccine uptake amongst the community. Through university campaigns encouraging vaccination to the media and discussions between friends and families, those with any reservations are likely to be influenced to take the vaccine.
Given all of that we know about the virus and public opinion on the vaccine, in a liberal democracy, can universities really justify mandating that students and staff get vaccinated? I think not.
Featured Image: Epigram / Molly Pipe
Would you support a policy of mandatory vaccinations for University students and staff?