Civil servants were given a “no jab, no job” ultimatum deadline. By 15 October 2021, all civil servants who would not have been vaccinated by this date stood to be barred from the workplace. Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima said “Those that do not want to be vaccinated cannot continue working for Government”.
A growing number of countries are also making shots compulsory for public servants. The issue of compulsory vaccination is difficult because the government needs to consider multiple interests – all protected by human rights law – and strike a fair balance between them. As it is often the case in human rights law, there is no simple solution.
Compulsory vaccination is an interference with the human right of bodily integrity, which is a part of the right to private life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Constitution. An important question to ask is whether the policy allows for exceptions to vaccinations. Compulsory vaccination should allow those with valid health-related or other relevant reasons to opt out. If such exceptions are not provided, then it is likely that this policy violates human rights.
The government needs to be clear as to what exceptions might exist and who will decide if the exception is justifiable. Workers with valid reasons for not being vaccinated were instructed to address their concerns to their respective heads of department. Some have said vaccine mandates are 100% a human rights issue but also about keeping society safe.
There is a very clear connection between human rights and mandatory vaccinations. While the issue of mandatory vaccines may be a human rights issue related to the right to privacy and the right to bodily integrity, this right is not absolute, meaning that governments can interfere with it if they can justify such interference as necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of another valuable goal. In the case of COVID-19, protecting not only the vaccinated individuals but other members of society.
Advocates for mandates say compulsory vaccinations are a justifiable intrusion on an individual’s liberty and that is because COVID-19 is serious, easily spread from one person to another and lethal.