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Vaccines necessary in democratic society: European court

Court finds no violation of human rights convention if state takes punitive action against parents for refusing vaccination

Shweta Desai   | 08.04.2021
Vaccines necessary in democratic society: European court


In a widely anticipated judgment on compulsory vaccination for children, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday ruled that a state-mandated health intervention is “necessary in a democratic society.”

The grand chamber of the ECHR found no violation of the European Convention of Human Rights in the case of Vavricka and Others v. the Czech Republic -- the case of Czech parents who were penalized for refusing to submit their children to mandatory vaccination. The landmark verdict that passed with a majority of 16 votes against one will be legally binding for all member states of the Council of Europe.

The court in its decision noted that there was “a general consensus that vaccination was one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions and that each State should aim to achieve the highest possible level of vaccination among its population.”

The judgment is important in the light of the pandemic and has a bearing on the discussions whether the COVID-19 vaccine can be made compulsory by the states. In the EU, the vaccine jabs are not compulsory and majority states are limiting their obligation to the provision of the vaccine, leaving the decision whether to take the preventive shot or not up to individuals.

On the relevant and sufficient reasons about immunization, the court pointed out that the objective has to be the protection of every child against serious diseases. If voluntary vaccination policy failed to provide or maintain herd immunity, “the national authorities could reasonably introduce a compulsory vaccination policy in order to achieve an appropriate level of protection against serious diseases,” the decision said.

But it further added that its “compliance could not be directly imposed,” meaning “there was no provision allowing for vaccination to be forcibly administered.” Parents who refuse to comply can be administratively fined.

The applicants in the Vavricka and Others v. the Czech Republic case had approached the court between 2013 and 2015, after being fined for refusing to vaccinate their children or their children being refused admission to nursery school.

Czech laws require children to be vaccinated against nine well-known diseases, those who refuse to comply with the general obligation can be fined, and non-vaccinated children are refused admission to nursery schools.

The ECHR found that the penalty measures were of a “fair balance with the aims pursued by the Czech State, i.e. protection against diseases representing a serious risk for one’s health.”

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