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Carrot or stick? Which is best at pushing Europeans to get vaccinated?

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By Euronews
Dr. Cedric Waechter administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a resident of the Bois Fleuris nursing home Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Strasbourg, France.
Dr. Cedric Waechter administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a resident of the Bois Fleuris nursing home Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Strasbourg, France.   -   Copyright  Jean-Francois Badias/AP
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As COVID-19 cases spike again and inoculations slow down, European countries appear divided on the issue of mandatory vaccination.

For a long time, Italy appeared as the exception in the region after making the vaccination of health workers compulsory in March.

But the fast-spreading Delta variant has forced many European states to change gears.

This week, France and Greece made it compulsory for all health workers to receive their coronavirus jabs. Both countries also restricted many day-to-day activities to the vaccinated -- in the case of France, a negative PCR test or proof of immunity are also accepted.

Macron hinted that his government was even considering extending mandatory vaccination for all French people.

"Depending on how the situation develops, we will no doubt have to ask ourselves the question of mandatory vaccination for all French people," he said in a televised address to the nation.

But the next day, German chancellor Angela Merkel took the exact opposite stance.

"I don't think that we would gain trust by changing what we have said, i.e. not introducing vaccination as a compulsory measure, but I think that we can gain trust by promoting vaccination," she said on Tuesday.

Which European countries mandate vaccination for health workers?

Italy was the first country in Europe to order its health workers, including pharmacists, to get vaccinated through a decree in March. Those who refuse face suspension without pay for the rest of the year.

In a televised address on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all French health care workers and other staff in contact with vulnerable populations to get vaccinated by September 15.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Monday that the country's health care workers in Greece will be suspended if they refuse to get vaccinated from September.

In Britain, health minister Matt Hancock said last month that care home workers will have an obligation to get vaccinated starting October.

Other countries are mulling over similar measures, including Poland which might make vaccination compulsory for high-risk populations from August.

Where is vaccination mandatory for day-to-day activities?

"Contemporary forms of *mandatory vaccination* compel vaccination by direct or indirect threats of imposing restrictions in cases of non-compliance," writes the World Health Organisation in a policy brief.

This seems to be the direction taken by some European countries in recent days.

While vaccination will not be a legal obligation for the general French population, anyone wanting to go to the restaurant, café or board a train will need a health pass starting August.

"We will enforce restrictions on those who are not vaccinated rather than on everyone," Macron said on Monday.

In Greece, only vaccinated customers will be allowed in indoor commercial areas such as bars, cinemas and theatres starting Friday, and until the end of August.

In Russia, Moscow has ordered the city's cafes, bars and restaurants to only admit to customers who have proof of vaccination, immunity or a negative test.

What are the issues raised by compulsory vaccination?

Compulsory vaccination raises a number of ethical issues, according to the WHO.

"Because policies that mandate an action or behaviour interfere with individual liberty and autonomy, they should seek to balance communal well-being with individual liberties," the UN health body wrote in its April policy brief.

Mandatory jabs shouldn't be imposed without considering principles of proportionality and necessity, the organisation said.

"If such a public health goal (e.g., herd immunity, protecting the most vulnerable, protecting the capacity of the acute health care system) can be achieved with less coercive or intrusive policy interventions (e.g., public education), a mandate would not be ethically justified," the brief reads.

Regarding the legality of compulsory jabs in Europe, the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) said in a landmark April ruling that mandatory vaccinations for children "are necessary in a democratic society."

The case brought against the Czech government by a group of families whose children were excluded from school, for not being vaccinated against nine communicable diseases that included poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough and pneumococcal infections.

The ECtHR concluded that health authorities "could reasonably introduce a compulsory vaccination policy in order to achieve an appropriate level of protection against serious diseases" where voluntary vaccination had failed.

Experts say the ruling on the case, which pre-dates the pandemic, could pave the way for compulsory COVID-19 inoculations.

Reached by Euronews, a WHO spokesperson urged states to take "extreme care" when implementing mandatory vaccine requirements.

"National vaccination policies should endeavour first and foremost to make vaccination easily and equitably accessible. In situations where voluntary vaccine uptake in certain population groups is inadequate and COVID-19 transmission rates remain unacceptably high, recommendations of vaccination for specific occupational groups could be considered given the expected public health implications," the WHO spokesperson said.

"While this is done, it is paramount to explore and plan for appropriate interventions to address any underlying obstacles in these population groups. Extreme care should be taken with the implementation of such mandates or requirements, including the use of any penalties or fines, as they can reinforce social and health inequalities."

"Rapid scaling up of COVID-19 vaccination to protect all priority groups is important to reap the full benefits of the available vaccines and prevent the occurrence of any further variants of concern," the spokesperson added.

Additional sources • AP