The return of Strictly Come Dancing has brought the usual mix of glitz, intrigue and overly ambitious routines into the nation’s homes. But this year there was an extra strand to the dance-based psychodrama: a national debate over whether an individual has the right to keep their vaccination status private.
While millions of people tuned in for the first episode, the BBC was busy dealing with claims that some of the show’s professional dancers have not had a Covid-19 vaccine, potentially putting others on the close-contact programme at risk.
With all British adults having been offered a jab, the issue has highlighted the difficulty in UK law of balancing the right of an individual to keep their medical information private with the right of colleagues to make informed decisions about the risk of catching Covid-19.
“There’s almost no legitimate reason for publishing [an individual’s vaccine status] to the world at large,” said Mark Stephens, data privacy lawyer at law firm Howard Kennedy. “But there may be circumstances – such as on Strictly – to amplify that information to allow people working closely with that individual to know what risk they are about to embark on.”
The BBC has not required participants on the show to be vaccinated, with the Sun claiming that at least three professional dancers have not had a Covid-19 vaccine. While some people are unable to have the vaccine for medical reasons, the tabloid suggested that the dancers on the show would rather quit than be forced to have a jab.
A report in the Times also claimed that the Mail on Sunday had attempted to name some of the dancers who declined to be vaccinated, only to meet a strong pushback from their lawyers. Similar issues have been faced by people competing in team sports, with many professional footballers not having a jab.
However, the public is unlikely to find out which celebrities have turned down a vaccine. Stephens said privacy law in the UK makes it almost impossible to justify publishing private medical information, even if it is known by an individual’s colleagues: “If you are a person who is informed of someone’s vaccine status, you come into a ring of confidence. You don’t have a right to tell anyone else, it’s for the purpose of you making your informed decision as to whether you wish to take a risk.”
A handful of Strictly dancers, including Giovanni Pernice, Oti Mabuse and Amy Dowden have publicly confirmed they are vaccinated. Unluckily, Dowden then missed the first episode of the show after she and partner Tom Fletcher caught Covid.
The BBC has insisted it has strict testing regimes in place on Strictly Come Dancing and would not discuss individual cases: “The BBC has never commented nor confirmed the vaccination status of anyone on the show. It’s not our place to. It is not the case that concerns have been raised with the BBC or the Strictly production team from dancers or celebrities about vaccination, or that they have threatened to quit.”