Christian Concern’s chief executive, Andrea Williams, comments on why we’re standing against mandatory vaccinations for NHS workers.
3 February is the deadline for patient-facing NHS workers to have their first dose of a Covid vaccination, or by law, lose their jobs.
They’re not the first to be in this situation – care home workers faced the same circumstances in the Autumn and some have already lost their jobs.
I want to explain why Christian Concern is standing with Christians who find themselves unemployed because they don’t want to take these vaccines, and why we should all show our love for our neighbour by opposing these laws.
It’s about compulsion
We have sought to contribute wisely on whether to take Covid-19 vaccines. We’ve sought to inform Christians about ethical questions and give space for Christians with medical expertise to advise on questions of safety. We also hosted a debate watched more than 24,000 times asking ‘Should Christians accept vaccines which used fetal cell lines?‘
We are asking the government why it is forcing people to take vaccines, or lose their jobs.
Like many of our cases and campaigns, this is a conscience issue
I realise this may seem like a departure from many of our cases and campaigns. But look closely and you’ll see the same key thread running through this problem: freedom of conscience.
Some Christians don’t want to take these vaccines due to ethical concerns. Others cite safety concerns, efficacy concerns. Some may simply not want to take them. In every case, their body is given to them by God, for them to steward; not me, you or the government. This is an issue of conscience.
The government clearly believes that in this case, public health concerns override an individual’s freedom of conscience. Notice though, that public health justifications are behind the current calls for conversion therapy bans (e.g. claims that people must be protected from consensual conversations). They have been cited to give grounds for restrictions on visibly wearing crosses and restrictions on freedom of worship.
So the legality of this mandate (according to the human rights laws our nation is committed to) comes down to the very same questions as many of our other cases and campaigns. If the government can force employers to dismiss workers who refuse to take a vaccine, it makes it easier for the government to overstep its mark elsewhere.
Is the mandate proportionate and necessary?
The government can’t simply cite public health and do what it wants. In Mary Onuoha’s recent case, it was clear that her cross presented no greater risk than many other commonly-allowed practices at her hospital. Last year’s groundbreaking judicial review of gathered worship bans in Scotland showed that the ban was disproportionate to the positive effect it may have had on public health.
Law and jurisprudence says that if a policy is to override a person’s conscience and bodily autonomy, it must be proportionate to the legitimate aim being sought and necessary in a democratic society. Many will contend that widespread vaccination for Covid-19 is desirable. But are these measures proportionate and necessary?
What positive effect could this mandate have? Vaccine uptake has been high among healthcare workers (over 93%) and the Department for Health and Social Care now anticipates 70,000 staff not being vaccinated in time for the government’s deadline. How many of these staff will really change their mind at the last moment? How much extra protection will these mandated vaccinations provide, when offset against the staff shortages they cause?
It’s reasonable to doubt, with the Omicron wave of Covid past its peak and other restrictions being lifted, that this mandate will have any net positive health effect. At least, the benefit will be small; these vaccines do not offer bullet-proof protection or fully stop someone from passing the virus on to others. It does not appear to be proportionate.
It also appears to be unnecessary. It is not enough for the government to say that widespread vaccinations are desirable; they must show them to be necessary. Could public health be protected any other way that does not interfere with freedom of conscience? Doctors have pointed out that immunity from having recovered from Covid offers comparable protection to the vaccines. Why are allowances not made for these NHS workers? It also appears that – before this law comes into effect – the strain of Covid on the NHS has already dropped significantly. If it was ever necessary, it is surely not now.
A long track record of standing for freedom of conscience
This law and the previous one affecting care home workers have led to a significant number of Christians contacting us for help. These brothers and sisters of ours find themselves unable in good conscience to take these vaccines and face the prospect of unemployment.
They come to us not because we are anti-vaccination but because we have a long track record of standing up for freedom of conscience.
From clapping to sacking
These are some of the key workers our nation used to clap on Thursday evenings. Some of these men and women worked tirelessly through the earliest stages of the pandemic, unvaccinated, to preserve others’ lives. Now, they face dismissal.
We have been actively helping some of these people tell their stories to major broadcasters and newspapers, to help people see the human cost of these measures.
For example, Dr Fui Mee Quek who spoke on Sky News and was interviewed by the Times and the Telegraph. She wrote to the Prime Minister, explaining her reasoning in detail.
‘Jim’ also explained his ethical concerns to the Times and others have appeared on BBC Breakfast and major BBC news bulletins.
Our legal team has also sought to give appropriate assistance for the workplace issues these Christians have faced.
But it’s now time for more Christians to stand up and oppose these mandates.
Stand with our brothers and sisters
There is much optimism that it will be possible to relax most anti-Covid measures soon. But so far there is no clear sign that mandatory vaccinations for care home workers or NHS staff will be reversed.
I urge Christians to pray for the Government, for MPs, for leaders in the NHS and all those advising them on public health. Give thanks that they care for the physical wellbeing of the nation and pray that they would have wisdom on how best to lead.
While different approaches to Covid have divided us, now is an opportunity to reach out to others in our churches who may be losing their jobs in a matter of weeks. We should stand with our brothers and sisters and oppose this misguided, disproportionate and unnecessary overreach from the government.