On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that European countries can legally request children to be vaccinated. The decision covers pre-school vaccinations for children, but it could also have an impact on the European Union’s fight to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its ruling, which received 16-1 votes, the Strasbourg-based court said compulsory vaccinations could be considered “essential in a democratic society”.
A Czech man has challenged his country’s demand for a vaccine for young children, after being fined for refusing to vaccinate his son and daughter against tetanus, hepatitis and polio. Prosecutor Pavel Vavrika said the law violated his family’s right to a private life. Five other families filed similar lawsuits after their children were denied access to kindergartens or nurseries.
The human rights court agreed that the vaccine obligations place a burden on the individual, but added that the societal benefits outweigh the burden.
Czech Republic laws require children to receive two combined vaccines to protect against a number of diseases, according to public radio Czech television.
Vaccines were described as “one of the most successful and cost-effective health interventions” known to medicine, and the court noted that the dynamics of herd immunity make it important to achieve a high vaccination rate.
The court said that the inability of some children to be vaccinated for medical reasons increases the importance of reaching a “very high vaccination rate” to prevent infectious diseases.
Thursday’s decision is the first time that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled on compulsory vaccinations, according to The German Wave And other European media.
In addition to ruling on privacy grounds, the court also rejected several plaintiffs’ argument that the European Union’s guarantee of freedom of religion and belief protects their position against vaccines.
According to the ruling, the plaintiffs’ failure to prove their opinion about vaccines “was sufficient argument, seriousness, coherence and importance to form a conviction or belief” under Article 9 of the European Constitution.
All Czech cases were filed years before the COVID-19 pandemic spread, but the verdict comes at a time when many countries – in Europe and around the world – are looking for ways to ensure their residents have high levels of vaccination. Many of these efforts meet skepticism fueled by disinformation and concerns that vaccine development may be accelerated.
A large portion of the US population is also hesitant to receive COVID-19 vaccines: 1 in 4 Americans say they will refuse to be vaccinated altogether, according to A recent NPR / Marist poll.