On Thursday, April 8, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that governments can make vaccinations obligatory because they are “necessary” in a democracy. Experts stated that this ruling could have massive implications for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination policies throughout Europe. The ECHR made this ruling as a result of a case brought before the court involving several families from the Czech Republic whose children were barred from school because they elected not to give their kids vaccinations against nine different diseases: poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough and pneumococcal infections. Under Czech law, it is illegal to not be vaccinated against these diseases. They were either fined for failing to comply, or their children were denied admission to the school. The petitioners believed the consequences for not complying with Czech mandatory vaccination rules were a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which lays out how it is essential for the right to private life must be respected. Sixteen of the 17 judges on the ECHR’s court of last resort, the Grand Chamber, rejected the appeal of the Czech families. The Chamber found that Czech authorities were well within their rights to punish the families of the unvaccinated children because they were supposedly doing it to protect the health and rights of others. (Related: EU IN CRISIS: Deadly rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine destroys EU’s reputation, shatters image of unity within bloc.) “The … measures could be regarded as being ‘necessary in a democratic society,’” ruled the court. It said that the Czech health policy mandating vaccinations for children was consistent with their “best interests” and that it had not “exceeded their wide margin of appreciation in this area.” The ruling added:
“The objective has to be to protect every child against serious diseases. In the great majority of cases, this was achieved by children receiving the full schedule of vaccinations during their early years. Those to whom such treatment could not be administered were indirectly protected against contagious diseases as long as the requisite level of vaccination coverage was maintained in their community; in other words, their protection came from herd immunity.”
Because of this, the court said that laws making vaccinations compulsory do not violate European law. As such, the decision of Czech authorities to bar children from school if they do not get vaccinated was “fully consistent with the rationale of protecting the health of the population.” In addition to rejecting the argument on privacy, the ECHR also rejected an argument from several of the Czech parents that the Convention on Human Rights’ guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 protected them from mandatory vaccinations. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove that their stance on vaccines “was of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance so as to constitute a conviction or belief.”
ECHR ruling could pave the way for mandatory vaccination legislation throughout Europe
These cases were lodged between 2013 and 2015, well before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and it was primarily concerned with the vaccination of young children. But Nicolas Hervieu, a legal expert specializing in European human rights concerns, still believes that the ruling has implications for the coronavirus. He said it “reinforces the possibility of compulsory vaccination” for COVID-19. Hervieu teaches at the Sciences Po, an educational institution in Paris that specializes in teaching political sciences. Hervieu added that the ECHR’s ruling endorses “the principle of social solidarity which can justify imposing vaccinations on everyone, even those who feel less threatened by the disease, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable people. Other legal experts like Hervieu have called the ECHR’s decision a death blow to the vaccine skeptic movements in Europe who opposed mandatory vaccinations. Governments all over the EU have now been provided a legal precedent to make vaccinations against COVID-19 compulsory. But this does not mean every single nation in the bloc will make vaccinations mandatory. French President Emmanuel Macron previously stated that he is against mandatory vaccinations. “I do not believe in compulsory vaccination for this [COVID-19] vaccine because above all we have to be very honest and very transparent,” he said in Dec. 2020. “We do not know everything about this vaccine as we do not know everything about the virus.”
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Author: Adnan Aftab
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