The row over whether mandatory vaccines should happen to NHS and care workers has been raging for months (though there has been a reprieve now that the Omicron variant seems to have made the issue less necessary).
Should teachers be prepared to accept mandatory vaccination?
The ethical issues around mandatory COVID jabs are complex and compelling - especially as, if you’re a teacher, kids are ‘super spreaders’ and you are exposed to them on a daily basis.
There is no doubt – thankfully - that we live in a society that sanctifies a person’s sovereignty over his or her own body.
But like ‘free speech’ - there are limits. There always have been. You simply cannot do anything you want with your body and think that’s ok.
As John Stuart Mill, the Victorian philosopher of liberty had to admit, your right to do whatever you want with your fist ends when it approaches the contours of my face.
So while I defend the right of anyone to refuse the vaccine, they must accept that their duty – for the public good – is to accept the responsibility to restrict their access and exposure to others. If they don’t accept that responsibility, then society has a right to restrict their movement and access to others to whom they may cause harm.
This means they might be restricted from going to their place of work. Indeed, it may mean they cannot practice their profession.
There are precedents for society imposing itself on people to become vaccinated.
Historically, we imposed requirements that all children be vaccinated against other infectious diseases - like smallpox - for many years. Now as a result of decades of vaccination around the world, smallpox has been totally eradicated worldwide. We did the same for mumps, measles and rubella – drastically reducing that disease - until a badly misinformed doctor dis-informed the public that the MMR vaccine might cause autism.
Professions have been and are still restricted too. NHS workers including doctors and nurses must accept – and this has long been the case – that they have to be vaccinated against Hepatitis C, not just for their own safety but so they don’t risk infecting their patients.
Once when I was young teacher, I came into school one day with a heavy fluey cold. I thought I was being heroic – not wanting to take time off or be accused of ‘man flu’. As soon as the head saw the condition I was in, he tried to send me home. I refused. “I’m fine, really! The kids need me… You’ll have to pay for a supply teacher… I’ll be fine with a few paracetamol…”
“I’m not thinking about you,” he told me bluntly. “I’m thinking about everyone else you’re going to give your germs to. I’m ordering you. Go Home!”
It wasn’t personal. He was carrying it out his ethical responsibility to safeguard the other children and staff. He was acting for the ‘public good’.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ is published by Crown House Publishing and can be ordered here.