A child reacts while receiving a dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the Smoketown Family Wellness Center in Louisville, Kentucky, United States on November 8, 2021.
Jon Cherry | Reuters
LONDON – Covid-19 vaccine mandates continue to be a controversial topic of debate, and the issue remains as important as ever as the world grapples with not only the Delta variant but the spread of Omicron, a mutation of the Virus whose risk profile remains largely unknown.
With some countries struggling to encourage voluntary uptake of vaccines – which have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of serious infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus – some governments are considering or have announced plans to introduce mandatory vaccination.
Experts say there are a number of ethical issues to consider regarding vaccine mandates, but some countries have set aside concerns in favor of the overall benefits of vaccination.
The WHO Europe Director, Dr. Hans Kluge, commented on the sensitive debate on Tuesday and warned that vaccination requirements should be the last resort.
“Vaccination mandates are the absolute last resort and only applicable if all other practicable options for improving vaccination uptake have been exhausted,” said Kluge. They shouldn’t be done “unless you first approached the communities involved,” he said at a press conference.
Mandates “have been shown to be effective in some settings in increasing vaccine uptake,” said Kluge, but added that “the effectiveness of vaccine mandates is very context-specific, needs to be considered.”
He warned that what is acceptable in one society or community may not be in another.
“Ultimately, mandates should never help increase social inequalities in access to health and social services. Any measure that could restrict a person’s right or freedom of movement, such as bans or mandates, must ensure that mental health and well-being are guaranteed. “For,” he said.
The only way to stop the virus?
The idea of compulsory vaccination has long been controversial in Europe, and vaccination skepticism varies greatly from country to country. But the current Covid landscape has made the debate more widespread, and some officials believe mandating vaccines is the only way to stop the virus.
Covid vaccines significantly reduce the risk of serious infection, hospitalization, and death from the virus, but we also know that vaccine immunity wears off after about six months and that they cannot reduce transmission by 100%.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week that it was time to “think about compulsory vaccination in the EU”, in which individual states can impose vaccination mandates. The comments were made as vaccination rates remain sluggish in some member states and many countries are grappling with a winter spike in Covid cases.
Some EU member states have already decided to enforce vaccines. Austria has announced that it will introduce compulsory vaccinations next year, while Greece has announced that it will fine anyone aged 60 or over or over 100 euros a month if they fail to be vaccinated. Those over 60 must have received their first dose of a coronavirus by January 16 to avoid the fine.
Germany’s outgoing government had also proposed the possibility of mandatory vaccination – although the new coalition said on Tuesday that mandatory vaccination was being discussed but nothing had yet been decided.
Indonesia made Covid vaccinations mandatory for its citizens earlier this year, with Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia (introducing mandatory vaccination for anyone wishing to enter a job) and the small island nation of Micronesia introduced similar measures.
Other countries or states have (or make) Covid vaccines compulsory for some sectors of workers, such as public service workers and especially health care workers. In the US, a number of companies have said that their employees also need to be vaccinated against Covid, which has often led to employee protests.
Many people who do not want to be vaccinated against Covid and vehemently refuse to be vaccinated say that their freedom of travel, social and work freedom is increasingly restricted as the number of public spaces, leisure facilities and workplaces only grows for those who have been vaccinated.
A demonstrator lights a smoke bomb during a rally by the right-wing extremist FPÖ against the measures to contain the Covid pandemic on Maria-Theresien-Platz in Vienna on November 20, 2021.
JOE KLAMAR | AFP | Getty Images
So-called “Covid passports” or passports restrict access to public places to those who have been vaccinated, recently recovered or those with a negative Covid test. They are increasingly relying on keeping recreational activities and businesses open, although critics say they segregate societies according to vaccination lines.
Europe was rocked by protests in November when thousands of people demonstrated against new restrictions and the introduction of Covid passports in Brussels, Vienna, Rome and Amsterdam following a surge in Covid infections.