A growing number of countries are considering making Covid jabs mandatory for the general population, but is this the right approach?
Which countries are opting for compulsory vaccinations against Covid?
Austria has announced plans to make Covid jabs mandatory from February, with Germany indicating it could follow suit. Greece, meanwhile, has already announced mandatory jabs for those over 60, while Indonesia and Turkmenistan are among those that have already made Covid jabs mandatory.
Why are they taking this approach?
Many countries exploring compulsory vaccination of the general population are facing increasing levels of Covid which have led to the reintroduction of severe measures, including lockdowns.
In Germany, for example, many hospitals are under great pressure as the number of new Covid cases has reached unprecedented highs in recent weeks, reaching a record 79,051 new cases on November 24, according to data collected. by Johns Hopkins University.
According to Hans Kluge, WHO director for Europe, the situation in Europe and Central Asia is due to a number of factors, including insufficient vaccination coverage and the relaxation of public health and social measures.
“Most of the people hospitalized and deceased from Covid-19 today are not fully vaccinated,” he said last month.
The emergence of the Omicron variant has added to concerns given the first signs that it may be more transmissible than Delta and have some ability to dodge the body’s immune responses, leading many countries – including the UK – to step up their efforts to ensure that the population is as well protected as much as possible by vaccination, including booster injections. Some countries believe the best way to do this is through mandatory Covid jabs.
Does compulsory vaccination work?
Covid vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective, especially in preventing serious illness and death, and may reduce the need for harsh social measures such as blockages. Mandatory immunization programs offer the potential to increase not only the level of absorption, but also the speed at which people go for vaccines. But the proper functioning of these programs depends on a number of factors, including the level of opposition.
“The mandates for vaccines work – as Italy, the United States and Australia have shown for other vaccines. Will they work for Covid? There is more uncertainty in the public regarding the long-term safety profile, therefore more resistance, ”said Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, adding that in the UK there was the added factor of high levels of natural immunity.
Italy already had 10 mandatory vaccines for children, with some evidence suggesting the laws have had a positive impact on vaccination. However, the EU-funded Asset project, which examines the impact of compulsory vaccination in a number of countries, found no clear link between the approach and vaccine uptake.
In April, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it “does not currently support the direction of the mandates for the Covid-19 vaccination, having argued that it is better to work on campaigns information and make vaccines accessible ”.
But speaking last month, Robb Butler, executive director of WHO Europe, said conversations about mandatory jabs need to take place. “Mandatory vaccination can, but does not always increase, uptake,” he said.
Are there any downsides to compulsory vaccination?
There are a number of concerns, including the risk of undermining public confidence in public health measures.
“I think the main problem is the public reaction, the increase in polarization and the possibility that political parties will gain traction on the anti-vaxx ticket,” said Dr Samantha Vanderslott of the Oxford Vaccine Group. “Also, it could ignore improving immunization services and access to vaccines,” she said.
Savulescu also raised concerns. “The risks are public confidence in government, but more importantly, freedom should be restricted only to the smallest extent necessary. Unless the public health system is on the verge of collapse, it is difficult to justify treating the decision to treat unvaccinated people any differently than the decision to smoke, drink alcohol, eat poorly. , not to exercise, etc. He said, adding if mandatory policies were introduced, they should be as selective as possible.
“The Greek approach to manufacturing [Covid] compulsory vaccination for those over 60 is more ethically defensible than the Austrian or German proposals to make it compulsory for all adults, ”he said.
Will the UK introduce mandatory jabs?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the UK “will never review” mandatory vaccinations for the general public.
While the UK has decided to make Covid bites a working condition for frontline health and social service workers, mandatory vaccination of the general population would be a very different matter.
Apart from ethical concerns, the UK situation is different from that of many European countries.
“The UK now has a high level of immunity – natural or due to vaccination. Above all, it offers good protection to the elderly, who are the main group lobbying hospitals, ”said Savulescu, noting that data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that in early November 92.8% of adults in England reportedly had antibodies against Covid either from vaccination or natural infection. “There’s not much point in a mandatory policy in the UK – Austria, for example, has much lower coverage. “