The Health Secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out making Covid vaccines mandatory.
Describing the idea as “unethical”, the cabinet minister said the UK would not follow the lead of Austria and Germany, which look poised to bring in legal requirements for jabs from February.
The announcement comes after the Government brought in tougher Covid restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.
It has also sought to accelerate the coronavirus vaccine programme, which had slowed down despite the emergence of Omicron.
Mandatory Covid jabs for health and care workers only
Speaking to broadcasters on Thursday morning (9 December), Sajid Javid said mandatory vaccination would not be extended.
Under the current rules, brought in in November, frontline health workers and care staff in England are the only people required to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment.
Mr Javid said mandatory vaccination is “unethical and also at a practical level it wouldn’t work”.
He said health and care staff were an exception as they work in a “high-risk” environment.
“But if you ask me about universal mandatory vaccination – as some countries in Europe have said that they will do – at a practical level I just don’t think it would work because getting vaccinated should be a positive decision,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has suggested mandatory jabs should be considered across the EU.
Austria and Germany are set to legislate for enforced vaccination, while in Greece people over the age of 60 who refuse a jab will face monthly fines from January 2022.
Countries across Europe, like Italy and Hungary, already have mandatory vaccine requirements in place for civil servants.
Boris Johnson calls for ‘national conversation’ on jabs
At a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday (8 December), Boris Johnson seemed to suggest he was pondering mandatory vaccines.
If vaccines were shown to be capable of “holding” the Omicron variant, he said, “there is going to come a point” when “we are going to have to have a conversation about ways in which we deal with this pandemic”.
“I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still sadly, has not got vaccinated.”
More than 46.6 million people have had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, putting the level of uptake at 81.1% according to official Government figures.
The Guardian has reported that as many as six million people may still not have had a jab.