Will any countries in Europe make the COVID vaccine compulsory?

In this photo distributed by the Russian Ministry of Defence Press Service on 3 December 2020, a Russian Navy sailor receives a vaccine injection.
In this photo distributed by the Russian Ministry of Defence Press Service on 3 December 2020, a Russian Navy sailor receives a vaccine injection. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Marta Rodriguez Martinez
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With large numbers of people saying they will refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine, do governments in Europe have the option of making it compulsory, and are any of them planning to do so?


Only around a third of French people have said they would take a coronavirus vaccine, according to a survey conducted by Euronews in October. 63% of Brits said they would take it, followed by 57% of Germans and 55% of Italians.

Meanwhile, more than 40% of Spaniards would prefer not to be vaccinated at all with approved drugs, according to another survey by the Centre for Social Research in Spain. 

This raises a dilemma for governments: given the effectiveness of a vaccine is dependent on a high percentage of people taking them, what happens if large numbers of the population refuse?

Are there ways to make people take a vaccine?

Miquel Morales Sabalete, a partner in civil law at AGM Abogados, told Euronews that in Spain it is possible to do so, even though compulsory medical treatment or examination can affect the fundamental rights laid down in the country’s constitution.

The text in which this obligation could be based in the Organic Law on Public Health that establishes that the health authorities “will be able to adopt measures for the examination, treatment, hospitalisation or control when there is evidence of the existence of a danger to the health of the population owing to the health situation of a person or a group of people, or by activities carried out”.

As such, he concluded, if the health authorities say the pandemic justifies it, “there does not appear to be any legal obstacle to the imposition of a vaccination campaign”.

The director of the Centre for Coordination of Emergency Health Alerts in Spain, Fernando Simon, said that he hopes the vaccine “won’t have to be obligatory”.

Italy still hasn’t decided if it will make the vaccine obligatory. “There is no directive to make the vaccine obligatory, but we recommend it,” said prime minister Guiseppe Conte.

The country’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, added: “I think that with persuasion and with a true campaign we can achieve herd immunity without obligation but it is clear that we have to achieve immunity.”

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has been adamant that the vaccine won’t be obligatory.

“The immunisation has to be made in a clear and transparent way, sharing all the information at each step - what we know and what we don’t know. Also, I want to be clear. There will be no obligatory vaccination.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Nobody will be obliged to take the vaccination, it is a voluntary decision.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson said that although he “strongly urges people” to be vaccinated, “there will be no compulsory vaccination, that’s not the way we do things in this country."

Can private businesses oblige people to be vaccinated before using their services?

Sabalete says only health authorities can make vaccination mandatory.

“Private companies, with respect to their employees, in reality, are not legally able to force them to take a vaccine,” he said.

“And I doubt the government or parliament will authorise this, except perhaps for specific sectors because of their special risk of transmission to at-risk groups, such as workers at nursing homes.”

He added that airlines or other transport companies would not have this legal power.

He says that the system could be able to be the same as the current one with PCR tests: they could demand evidence of vaccination for the users who want to travel to a certain destination where a government has established these rules.

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