Mandatory coronavirus vaccination is not something the Government would “ever look at” bringing in, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said.
His comments came as demonstrators took to the streets across Europe protesting against tighter restrictions amid a surge in infections.
Austria has announced plans to make jabs compulsory as the country deals with a lower vaccine uptake.
Just two thirds of their population have been vaccinated so far, and the government said jabs will be mandatory from February 1.
Mr Javid said the UK is “fortunate” to have less hesitancy around vaccines than other countries.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “It is up to Austria, other countries, to decide what they need to do. We are fortunate that in this country, although we have vaccine hesitancy, it is a lot lower than we are seeing in other places.”
He added: “I just think on a practical level, taking a vaccine should be a positive choice. It should be something, if people are a bit reluctant, we should work with them and encourage them.
“In terms of mandatory vaccines for the general population I don’t think that is something we would ever look at.”
In England, the deadline for care home workers to be fully vaccinated was November 11.
The Government has said that frontline NHS and remaining social care staff working in registered providers must have received both vaccine doses by April 1.
Meanwhile, Mr Javid said the current focus of the vaccine programme is boosters – which have been extended to people aged 40 and above – and second jabs for 16 and 17-year-olds.
He said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is looking at the possibility of boosters for all adults, a consideration included as part of an update given last week.
It stated: “Future considerations include the need for booster vaccination (third dose) for 18 to 39-year-olds who are not in an at-risk group, and whether additional booster vaccination (fourth dose) for more vulnerable adult groups may be required.”
Following a report that coronavirus jabs could be given to children younger than 12 next year, Mr Javid said it would be “inappropriate” for him to comment at this stage on such a move.
Currently, Covid-19 vaccines are licensed in the UK only for children aged 12 and over, but the Sun newspaper reported leaked proposals which it said showed that health bosses are preparing to jab children aged between five and 11 next spring.
Asked if vaccines for this age group would be a step too far, Mr Javid told Times Radio: “It’s not for me to say, I think that would be inappropriate. I really want to make sure whatever decisions we make on vaccines, that we’re getting the very best expert advice.”
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said there is already “quite a lot of immunity building” in younger age groups when asked about coronavirus vaccines for the youngest children.
He told the Andrew Marr Show: “We are seeing lots of transmission already has happened in younger children, as well as in teenagers, and so we have quite a lot of immunity building in those age groups from infection.”
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said “expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness” must be met before vaccines would be authorised for children aged 5-11.
If the MHRA extended the licence for younger children, the Government would consider recommendations from the JCVI before any rollout.