Opinion

Can schools make staff vaccination mandatory?

14 Feb 2021, 5:00

vaccines

There are good arguments for expecting school staff to get their vaccination against Covid but any policy must consider those who can’t or won’t, writes Paman Singh

News of a vaccine is the light at the end of a very long tunnel for many teachers and school staff. Discussions around where in the pecking order teachers will fall in its rollout are ongoing. And with so much still unknown, there is already speculation that restrictions will be placed on those who don’t receive it. While the government maintains it will not impose such restrictions, it’s hard to see how it could stop other organisations from doing so.

Like all other employers, schools are required by law to ensure all “reasonably practicable” steps are taken to reduce workplace risks. They will almost certainly have a positive obligation to strongly recommend all staff get vaccinated, especially given the obvious and demonstrated risk of virus spread in the classroom.

However, there remain those who, for reasons varying from religious beliefs to health concerns, can’t or won’t take the vaccine. They could present schools with a challenging and complex issue.

Government has made clear vaccination will not be mandatory, and an employer can’t force an employee to take it up. However, employers may have a responsibility to furnish employees with guidance and advice on the vaccine’s benefits. Active engagement in this process may be necessary for employers to provide evidence of compliance with their duty under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Employers will likely have some manoeuvrability

In addition to this duty to inform, employers will likely have some manoeuvrability. If an organisation can show that the requirement for an employee to be vaccinated is a reasonable management instruction, then any refusal could justify disciplinary action, perhaps even dismissal, if deemed unreasonable. This would likely apply in circumstances where the employee’s role puts them in a position where some element of close contact is unavoidable, such as schools.

But although it may feel like education sector employers would be on firm ground requiring staff vaccinations against this deadly virus, much of the legal argument will depend on the particular circumstances, including the employee’s reasons for refusal. For refusal to be deemed reasonable there would need to be significant justification. For example, a fear of needles wouldn’t cut it. Trypanophobia – a fear of needles to such an extent that the sufferer could be defined as a disabled person under the Equality Act – could.

Similarly, certain religions may take exception to the use of animal products in the vaccine. However, attempts by vegetarians, vegans or even anti-vaxxers to justify their stance on similar grounds are unlikely to be successful.

Further, an employee might refuse on the basis that the contents of the vaccine are incompatible with their medication, or that their health condition otherwise renders them unable to have the vaccine. Where their health condition amounts to a disability, this introduces additional considerations for the employer, particularly as they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

One thing is for sure, the situation is not as straightforward for employers as it may appear. It is going to be vital to initiate open and sensitive conversations with staff to avoid situations where genuine reasons are overlooked or dismissed.

The additional work around these conversations will be crucial too. Organisations should consider engagement with trade unions and employee representatives now if mandatory vaccination is a consideration. Likewise, having a robust vaccination policy in place that clearly establishes what is required, by whom, and the process in the event of non-compliance will be crucial. That is something all organisations should be considering and seeking advice on now.

Like so much of the past year, this area of employment law is unprecedented. This high-profile and extremely complex area will almost certainly throw up difficult decisions. Schools should take appropriate pre-emptive steps to put themselves in the strongest possible position.

By seeking advice early, school leaders can enter into conversations with staff before the issue goes from urgent to critical.



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5 Comments

  1. Sorry. I value individual views, cultural views, religious views etc. but on this occasion these should all take second place. These are unusual times and it should be compulsory for everyone to be vaccinated unless there is a sound medical condition. The less people vaccinated the longer this threat will be around and the more people will die. Teachers should be setting an example and leading by example.

  2. I strongly disagree with the above comment. Even the thought or prospect of mandating vaccines is incredibly worrying, not to mention that it’s against our basic human rights. The trials are still on going, they end in 2023. There has been a dramatic high increase in miscarriages since women of child bearing age have been vaccinated. Not to mention the blood clot risks that have now come to light. What’s next? There is a 99.7% survival rate for my age group alone, and I will never consent. It’s a cocktail of a modified chimpanzee virus, mutated fetal cells and God knows what else. This is an mRNA pathogen, not your traditional vaccine, so there’s no wonder that the vaccine companies are taking no liability for any injury or death. The CEO of Pfizer has walked away with millions in his back pocket, before it all explodes. I’ve read so many stories of people losing their family members, just hours or days after they’ve accepted the jab. It was designed to be used in an emergency, not to be given to every living, breathing, healthy person on this planet. The truth is they only tell you what they want you to know on the news, you have to go out there and think for yourself and do your own independent research.

    • I understand what your saying about having the right to decide. But as a parent I’m concerned enough sending my children to school without anti vaccine, anti test people teaching them. If your a pregnant mother or vulnerable or your child is vulnerable then we’re is your rights? I think we should know if the person in close contact with them isn’t being safe. I know someone who’s looking for a job as a teaching assistant. They are anti vaccine. Won’t do covid test and do not wear masks. They don’t believe any of it. I wouldn’t want them near my kids.

  3. I agree with Sally’s points. You only have to go on the government website yellow card reporting system to see the amount of correlated deaths and adverse reactions there have been:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine-adverse-reactions/coronavirus-vaccine-summary-of-yellow-card-reporting
    to quote from here as of 25th May 2021 :
    ‘Up to and including 12 May 2021, the MHRA received and analysed 58,065 UK Yellow Cards from people who have received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. These reports include a total of 165,219 suspected reactions (i.e. a single report may contain more than one symptom). The first report was received on 9 December 2020.
    Up to and including 12 May 2021, the MHRA received and analysed a total of 175,057 UK reports of suspected ADRs to the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca. These reports include a total of 650,681 suspected reactions (a single report may contain more than one symptom). The first report was received on 4 January 2021.
    The MHRA has received 374 UK reports of suspected ADRs to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in which the patient died shortly after vaccination, 786 reports for the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, 2 for the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna and 16 where the brand of vaccine was unspecified. The majority of these reports were in elderly people or people with underlying illness. Usage of the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has increased rapidly and as such, so has reporting of fatal events with a temporal association with vaccination however, this does not indicate a link between vaccination and the fatalities reported. Review of individual reports and patterns of reporting does not suggest the vaccine played a role in the death’.

    Although it is important to discern between the two jabs. The Astrazeneca jab is the traditional style vaccine with chimpanzee virus etc whilst the Pfizer jab is the MRNA vaccine using experimental technology. Whilst both have bee rushed and seem to be causing many issues we don’t know the long term effects of the experimental Pfizer vaccine.

    I am afraid there has been a lack of critical thinking from the media and the scientific community and they are narrowly wedded to the governments narrative. Reading Paman’s article a famous quote from Upton Sinclair springs to mind ‘its difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding’

  4. I completely agree Dave in regards to the lack of critical thinking, brought on by how politicised this issue has become. In fact any kind of discussion on the topic has somehow become socially taboo, which is incredibly counter productive to solving the problem of Covid19. The problem should’ve always been about preventing the deaths/ vulnerable people in ICU, not making the virus disappear.

    Let’s pretend for a moment that this jab is 100percent effective in regards to stopping transmission and preventing infection. Even if every single man, woman and child in the UK was given this jab it still wouldn’t make this virus disappear. Even if we permanently closed every boarder to the UK, the virus has been shown to exist in animal reservoirs. Dogs, cats, chimps, you might remember the case where they culled mink after the virus had spread from the animal to the human. So would we need to roll out an animal vax campaign?However, the reality of the 3 main available vaccines, is that many people who are double jabbed have still experienced ‘break through’ infections where they are demonstrating symptoms. I personally know many people this applies to. If these people are symptomatic then they have a high viral load and are able to transmit the virus. On top of this, countries ahead of the UK in their vax campaign have now found the vaccine immunity dwindles, meaning that booster jabs will be necessary. The virus will not just disappear, so this will be a life long need for boosters, is this economically sustainable? How would this effect other areas of our health given that there has been no trial?

    The good news is that more and more studies on naturally acquired infection are finding that immunity is long lasting. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34089610/ https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03696-9 Being exposed to all of the proteins (not just the spike) that make up the virus results in a broader immunity, much more equipped to deal with variants. People who aren’t vulnerable to severe infection, particularly children, would be better off contracting the virus and building up immunity in this manner.

    Mandating a vaccine that doesn’t provide long lasting immunity, doesn’t stop transmission and (most surprisingly even to me) doesn’t even guarantee that you won’t end up in ICU seems devoid of any logic. On top of this, there’s a chance you could have a severe or deadly reaction to it! Medicine of any kind should always remain individualised to the person’s circumstance. Therefore, if the vaccine is the right choice for you based on your health circumstances then you should be respected for your decision. Equally I would like to be respected for my own decision to abstain.