Europe must consider mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, says WHO official

·3-min read
Europe has already seen a wave of protests as a new surge of Covid-19 cases has forced governments to re-impose measures to stop the spread
Europe has already seen a wave of protests as a new surge of Covid-19 cases has forced governments to re-impose measures to stop the spread

It is time for countries to start talking about mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, according to a key World Health Organization official in badly-hit Europe.

Robb Butler, executive director of the European regional director’s office, said making jabs compulsory “can, but does not always, increase uptake” and was worth considering in light of the surge of cases.

The WHO said Europe was “once again the epicentre” of Covid-19, with 60 per cent of the world’s Covid-19 cases and deaths in the last week.

Across the region, only 57 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, compared to around 68 per cent of people in the UK, according to a tracker on Our World in Data.

“We believe it's time to have that conversation from both an individual and a population-based perspective. It's a healthy debate to have," Mr Butler told Sky News on Wednesday.

However, he acknowledged that there are “lessons of history… where mandates have come at the expense of trust, social inclusion.”

Other experts also voiced caution.

Anthony Costello, a former WHO director and a professor of global health at University College London, warned that mandating shots would “repel a lot of people who lack trust in government and vaccines” and could even spark more riots.

He and Mr Butler both said that more mask-wearing and other preventative measures - like working from home and improved ventilation - could help bring down case numbers.

“We don’t want lockdowns or mandatory vaccines,” Prof Costello added.

Austria last week became the first country in Europe to reintroduce lockdown and also make Covid vaccination mandatory from February, with fines of up to £3,000 being levied on those who refuse a jab. Germany has also indicated that it may consider mandatory vaccination.

Slovakia went back into lockdown for two weeks at midnight last night, and the Netherlands - which has higher case rates than ever before - is also set to bring in new measures on Friday.

Italy on Wednesday announced the unvaccinated will be banned from venues such as restaurants and cinemas and from Dec 15, mandatory vaccines will be extended to those working in schools, police and the military.

As yet, full mandates are rarer, although not uncommon both in Europe and globally for other diseases. For example, in France, children have to provide vaccine certificates showing they have had their routine childhood immunisations when they enrol in school.

Other countries impose fines or even jail time for those who do not comply, according to a global review published in the journal Vaccine.

The first compulsory national vaccination programmes came in back in the 1800s, with the arrival of the smallpox vaccine and mandatory programmes in Italy and the UK. Smallpox is still the only human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

Dr Peter English, former editor of Vaccines in Practice, said the detail of what “mandatory vaccination” meant, and making sure it did not exclude people unfairly, was complicated.

“It is hard to enforce. How do you, in practice, vaccinate somebody who refuses consent?” he asked.

The British government has rejected making vaccines mandatory here, other than for health and care workers.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said: “It has never even been in our Plan B to have mandatory vaccines and it still isn't."

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