Will the Covid vaccine be compulsory? Why government is encouraging uptake of the new Oxford and Pfizer jabs - and the anti-vaxxer movement explained

The race to produce a coronavirus vaccine has been on for the majority of this year

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact across the globe.

Latest figures show close to 64 million cases and more than 1.4 million deaths worldwide caused by the virus - with the numbers increasing daily.

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Many different measures have been taken to try to suppress the virus as medical and scientific experts explore different treatments and potential vaccines to enable a safe return to normal life.

A Covid vaccine could be available before the end of the year. (Pic: Getty Images)
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We are repeatedly told that hundreds of vaccines are being developed around the world, with a few - including the one being worked on at the University of Oxford - in late trial stages.

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The race to produce a vaccine has been well and truly on for the majority of this year.

A major breakthrough saw the announcement of a vaccine manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had produced results with a 95% efficacy.

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The jab produced by Pfizer / BioNtech is the first to have been approved for use, with UK regulators giving it the green light on 2 December 2020.

Emergency approval from the US is also pending, with the hope of some of the most vulnerable in society receiving the vaccine before the end of the year.

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Yet there are still some sections of the population who oppose the use of a vaccine.

Who is against the use of a Covid vaccine?

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There have been a number of doubters, known as anti-vaxxers, who oppose the use of vaccines to bring the coronavirus under control.

They predominantly occupy online forums and social media websites to circulate “rumour and cause concern to people”, said Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons.

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A study conducted by ORB International, which works with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in July surveyed 2,065 Brits on their views.

It collected their responses to the question: “How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement? I would not want to be vaccinated against the coronavirus if a high-quality vaccine were available.”

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It found that 14% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, meaning they wouldn’t get vaccinated if one were available, while 13% said they didn’t know.

More than half (56%) strongly disagreed and a further 17% disagreed with the statement posed.

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What else did Jacob Rees-Mogg have to say?

Defending the government’s expenditure on its coronavirus PR campaigns, reportedly totalling £670,000, Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “There are a few nutters around, Mr Speaker – I’m sure you’ve never met them – who are anti-vaxxers, and they go around spreading rumour and causing concern to people.

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“And we need to put out the true information to reassure people and that is a reasonable and a proper thing to do.”

Do I have to have a vaccine?

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In an article produced by the BBC’s Reality Check earlier this year, it stated that “vaccines are not compulsory” under current UK law.

Government has the power to prevent, control or mitigate the spread of an infection or contamination under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

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“However, it explicitly states that regulations cannot require a person to undertake medical treatment, including vaccination,” the article continued.

The act applied to England and Wales at the time but the introduction of the Coronavirus Act introduced in March 2020 extended this prohibition to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Louise Hooper, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers in London, is also quoted as saying the legislation "makes explicitly clear that the power to make such regulations does not include mandatory treatment or vaccination".

What have the UK’s medical experts said?

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When asked if he would be prepared to be among the first people to be vaccinated, professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: "If I could, rightly and morally, be at the very front of the queue then I would do so.

"Because I absolutely trust the judgement of the MHRA on safety and efficacy.

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"But that clearly isn't right - we have to target most highest risk individuals in society and that is how it should be.

"If I could be at the front of the queue, then I would be.

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"But let me say to you this, I think the 'mum test' is very important here.

"My mum is 78, she'll be 79 shortly, and I've already said to her 'mum, make sure when you're called you're ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age'."

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What has Boris Johnson said on the matter?

Speaking after it emerged the Oxford vaccine was at least 70% effective in combating Covid, PM Boris Johnson confirmed the UK's position on mandatory vaccinations.

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“There will be no compulsory vaccination,” he said. “That’s not the way we do things in this country. We think it would be a good idea and I totally reject the propaganda of the anti-vaxxers – they are wrong.

“Vulnerable people, people who need a vaccine should definitely get a vaccine and everybody should get a vaccine as soon as it is available, according to the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

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"We should be very very pro-vaccine."