Exclusive: public servants in favour of COVID-19 vaccine mandates by small margin, GGF survey finds

By on 29/03/2022 | Updated on 12/04/2022
Man in red top getting a COVID-19 vaccination in the Province of British Columbia, Canada
More than half of respondents (57.1%) believe vaccine mandates for government workers will affect retention, with staff either choosing to quit or being fired for non-compliance. Photo courtesy Province of British Columbia via Flickr

A slim majority of public and civil servants are in favour of coronavirus vaccine mandates for government employees, a poll of nearly 4,000 officials by Global Government Forum has revealed.

However, the results demonstrate just how divisive the issue is, with 48.8% of civil and public servants agreeing with the case for mandates while 45.7% disagree.

The survey gathered nearly 4,000 responses from civil servants in 10 countries – Canada, the US, UK, New Zealand, Italy, Mexico, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Colombia.

Of the five countries with the most survey respondents (100 or more each) – Canada, the US, the UK, New Zealand, and Italy – New Zealand was the most supportive of vaccine mandates for government employees with 58.9% of public servants agreeing with the measure, and 35.0% disagreeing. While respondents in the other four countries are more evenly split on whether or not they support mandates, the US had the highest number of respondents who disagree with them, at 49.7%.

Comments submitted via the survey – which ran between 26 January and 19 February – show that broadly, those who agree with vaccine mandates feel a moral responsibility to get the jab to protect themselves and others, and feel that government staff should lead the way in the hope that citizens will follow suit.

“In order to reduce risk, everyone needs to be vaccinated. As public servants, it is our responsibility to do the people’s work, and that includes acting responsibly and in line with public health advice,” one survey respondent wrote.

Many of those who disagree with vaccine mandates, meanwhile, believe they should have the right to choose whether or not they get the vaccine and see government intervention of this kind as an infringement of civil liberties. Respondents describe governments’ decision to mandate vaccines as, for example, “disgusting”, “tyranny”, and “coercion and control”.   

Weighing up the moral arguments

The survey results show that the smallest proportion of those agreeing with mandates were officials working for the UK government (44.3%), even though the same country also had fewest people who disagreed than any of the other four countries bar New Zealand.

UK respondents’ explanations of their views suggest that most support vaccination as a means of tackling COVID-19 and believe it is safe but do not agree with mandates that threaten to discipline individuals for non-compliance on the basis that it should be a person’s right to choose.

“[An] ineffective and damaging way to drive up vaccination rates – damages people’s livelihoods, causes more animosity and alienates those who are hesitant, pushing them further to more extremist views. [It also] damages the strategy needed to properly protect against COVID – testing, face masks, distancing and vaccines – by making people assume vaccinations will completely halt transmissions,” one UK survey respondent wrote.   

Read more: Exclusive: vast majority of public servants still working remotely, GGF survey finds

Respondents in Canada and Italy appear to be both largely similar in their outlook and are most evenly split in terms of whether they agree or disagree with vaccine mandates, at around 47% and 48% respectively in both countries.

Of the Latin American countries – Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic – from which we received fewer than 100 survey responses each and have analysed separately, Colombia is most in favour of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for government workers, with 82.2% agreeing with the intervention. Mexico follows, with 79.4% of respondents in agreement. The Dominican Republic and Brazil trail behind, with 68.4% and 64.7% of respondents in favour respectively, though they are still more in support of mandates than any of the other five countries surveyed, including New Zealand.

Overall, 46.8% of respondents said they feel safe (or would feel safe) working on-site without a vaccine mandate in place, while 44.3% said they do not or would not feel safe.

Are vaccine mandates for public servants effective?

Global Government Forum asked survey respondents whether they thought vaccine mandates would be effective in driving up vaccination rates. Overall, 59.4% either agree or strongly agree and 26.5% either disagree or strongly disagree.

Public service workers impressions of whether vaccine mandates will drive up vaccination rates

The results show that in each of the five countries with more than 100 respondents, some of those who disagree with mandates concede that they will be effective. In the US, for example, more than half (53.7%) believe this to be the case. The percentage of those who believe they will be effective ranges from 52.2% (UK) to 73.1% (New Zealand). Italy has the highest proportion of those who think vaccine mandates will be ineffective, at 34.3%.

One survey respondent who works for the US government, wrote: “Misinformation about vaccines has become so widespread and has led to so much polarisation that – although the mandates have been effective at getting some to take the vaccine – they seem like they have been counter-productive and feed into a narrative on government ‘over-reach’. So, while I generally support the mandate, I’m not sure it is having the intended effect.”

Read more: Aye of the needle: overcoming vaccine hesitancy

More than half of respondents (57.9%) agree or strongly agree that vaccine mandates for government employees will affect retention, with staff either choosing to quit rather than get the vaccine or being fired for non-compliance. Nearly a quarter either disagree or strongly disagree.

A significant percentage (43.3%) also believe vaccine mandates for public servants will put people off applying for government jobs, while 38.7% believe there will be no impact on recruitment.

“I am pro-vaccination but it is a human right to decline to have something put in your body. Workforce morale has been badly affected in some countries due to the heavy-handed implementation of mandating vaccines for staff – staff have left and they struggle to recruit,” one person wrote.

Of those surveyed, 71% work in organisations where it is mandatory to have had a COVID-19 vaccine. Across the 10 countries, 68% work in non-frontline roles, 14% in health or social care, and 4% in education.

Which countries have mandates in place?  

Italy initially introduced a vaccine mandate for teachers and healthcare workers and in September last year became the first country to mandate vaccine passports for all workers, in both the public and private sector. In January this year, it made it mandatory for all individuals over 50 to get the vaccine whether in employment or not.   

The US and Canada each introduced vaccine mandates for the federal workforce late last year, though in the US the mandate has been paused following a court injunction. The Biden administration is appealing the decision, in which the judge ruled that the president does not have the authority to order such an intervention.

New Zealand has a vaccine mandate in place for workers in education, the police, and the defence force, though this is soon to be scrapped.

There are currently no vaccine mandates covering civil and public servants in the other six countries surveyed that GGF is aware of. There were plans to make vaccination mandatory for all health and social care workers in England from 1 April this year but these were formally revoked earlier this month after 90% of respondents to a public consultation disagreed with the plans.  

Global Government Forum will publish a more in-depth article on perceptions of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for civil and public servants in the coming weeks.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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