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Thematic Issue: Life Sciences: Ethics, Innovation and the Future of Law

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates: A Coercive but Justified Public Health Necessity


Kay Wilson and Christopher Rudge

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide introduced vaccine mandates and ‘passports’, creating tension between individual liberties and public health. This article provides an overview of the history of vaccine mandates in Australia and the United Kingdom, before examining the COVID-19 period, when Australian states introduced various conditional mandates while the United Kingdom largely avoided doing so. This article considers several medico-legal and human rights arguments for and against the imposition of conditional mandates. Although this article concludes that vaccine coercion is both legally and morally justified, it acknowledges the right to refuse medical treatment, freedom of thought, conscience, and opinion, and the right to bodily integrity as important precepts deserving serious consideration. In many cases, alternatives to coercion are preferable. This article has ongoing relevance, both for COVID-19 (as new variants and treatments emerge) and beyond, including for the use of coercion in childhood vaccination and future pandemics.

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(2023) 46(2) UNSWLJ 381: