Mandatory vaccination is “unethical”, Sajid Javid said after the Prime Minister called for a “national conversation” about the way forward in dealing with Covid-19.
Boris Johnson said he does not want a society where people are forced to have vaccinations but that using restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus cannot carry on “indefinitely”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said getting vaccinated should be a positive choice and it would not be practical to force people to get jabs, as is being considered in some European countries.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has suggested that mandatory jabs should be considered across the EU.
Austria is set to enforce vaccination from February, while in Greece people over 60 who refuse a jab will face monthly fines from January.
Mr Javid said mandatory vaccination is “unethical and also at a practical level it wouldn’t work”.
He said there is an exception in the case of health and care staff, working in a “high-risk” environment, where compulsory Covid-19 jabs are being introduced in England.
“But if you ask me about universal mandatory vaccination – as some countries in Europe have said that they will do – at a practical level I just don’t think it would work because getting vaccinated should be a positive decision,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
At a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that, from the beginning of the pandemic, “I didn’t want us to have a society and a culture where we force people to get vaccinated, I don’t think that’s ever been the way we do things in this country”.
But if the vaccines are shown to be capable of “holding” the Omicron variant then “there is going to come a point” when “we are going to have to have a conversation about ways in which we deal with this pandemic”.
“I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still sadly, has not got vaccinated.”
On Thursday, the PM’s official spokesman said: “I think he was making a broader point on the intention to keep developing further mitigations against coronavirus and any subsequent mutations, be that polyvalent vaccinations or further therapeutics, like the antivirals that we’re rolling out.”
He said: “We recognise how challenging this is, and disheartening for the public to see us having to introduce further restrictions, albeit at a relatively limited level.
“And so we will do everything possible to continue to be at the cutting edge of this work.
“I think he was clear that he didn’t want us to have a society and culture where we forced people to get vaccinated.”