“Before fundamental rights can be limited, there has to be a balancing exercise of individual rights against the public interest. COVID-19 is not fatal for everyone and since it is not fatal for everyone, I am not sure one can justify mandatory vaccines.” That is how Attorney General Magali Marin replied to the now salient and trending question facing governments worldwide as to whether it is practical and legal to mandate citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Attorney General, in weighing in on the matter, told The Reporter this week that the Government has not looked at the issue of mandatory vaccination, and she was not sure that any government could make it mandatory that citizens take the vaccine.
This matter was also discussed in a recent expose by a law professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Dean of the Faculty of Law Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine wrote this week that she is constantly asked for her thoughts on whether the COVID-19 vaccination could be made mandatory.
“This is not a clear-cut legal question and there are good arguments on both sides,” Antoine wrote, explaining that there is no law, precedent or policy that currently governs this matter. Antoine does point out in her article that labour law, public health and human-rights issues intermingle and that what is reasonable and in the majority interest would likely prevail ultimately. “Mandatory vaccination is, of course, an abrogation of individual rights, but it must be balanced against the collective rights of others – like public health and, importantly, the protection of the individual worker himself or herself in a very high-risk environment. No right is absolute, and law does not, or should not exist in a vacuum. It is likely that a state will have a wide margin of appreciation in formulating such laws,” the law professor reasoned.
Antoine states that several Caribbean constitutions provide avenues for the state to limit individual rights where public health is at risk and that this may justify mandatory vaccines. She also stated that while mandatory vaccination has yet to be tested in Caribbean courts, in this environment of a pandemic with fast-growing COVID-19 rates and deaths, the trend is to lean in favour of public-health imperatives over individual rights. To bolster her point, she pointed out that it is for this reason that the courts have not upheld challenges by people who were locked out of their own countries against their individual rights of citizenship.
Some people have argued that while the state can impose regulations to require people to take personal measures, such as wearing a face mask covering the nose and mouth, it is an entirely different argument to require someone to take into their body a vaccine, particularly the Astra Zeneca brand that has caused a degree of apprehension over its safety. Notably, however, no one in Belize has suffered any known major side effects from taking that vaccine.