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European countries cannot mandate compulsory childhood vaccinations.

The European court has supported mandatory pre-school vaccinations, but this does not mean they will be compulsory.

In its first judgment on compulsory childhood vaccination, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) ruled that the vaccination duty imposed by the Czech State was not in contravention of the right to respect for private life as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights (“Convention”). Moreover, the Court ruled that the measures adopted by the Czech authorities could be regarded as being “necessary in a democratic society”.

The ruling by the Court may set a precedent for member States to justify making policies regarding compulsory vaccinations if they so choose to do so. However, this does not mean that people in these States will be physically forced to be vaccinated.

In the Czech Republic, there is a statutory duty to vaccinate children against nine well-known diseases. While compliance with the legal duty cannot be physically imposed, parents who fail to comply with the same without good reason can be fined and non-vaccinated children are not accepted in nursery schools. Several families who decided against getting their children vaccinated, and who suffered the consequence of their non-compliance, lodged their applications at the Court citing that this legal duty is incompatible with their right to respect for their private life under Article 8 of the Convention.

The Court recognized that the objective of the Czech State was to protect against diseases that could pose a serious risk to health and protect the rights of others, noting that vaccination protects both, those who receive it and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and rely on herd immunity for protection against contagious diseases.

The Court acknowledged that the duty imposed by the Czech State was backed up by weighty public health rationale- in terms of vaccine efficacy, safety of childhood vaccination, and wanting to attain maximum vaccination coverage. The Court stated that vaccinations are of vital importance and called them “one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions”. It held that States are obligated to place paramount importance on children’s best interests in all decisions concerning their health and development- and that the Czechs’ mandatory policy was reasonable in light of wanting to achieve an appropriate level of protection against serious diseases.

The Court attested that while compulsory vaccinations represent interference to physical integrity, they were proportional to the legitimate aims pursued by the Czech State. Ultimately, the Judges ruled 16-1, that the measures taken by the Czech State could be regarded as being “necessary in a democratic society”.

The judgment is binding on all member states. While all the applications were filed pre-pandemic, the judgment may have far-reaching outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organisation or your national healthcare authority.

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