Compulsory vaccination against COVID-19
France and Greece have announced that vaccinations against SARS-CoV-2 will be mandatory for healthcare workers and the UK is also considering such a policy.
Compulsory vaccination is an interference with the human right of bodily integrity, which is a part of the right to private life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the European Convention on Human Rights. However, not every interference with this right is automatically illegal. The legality depends on several factors.
The wide spread of these policies does not immediately mean that they do not violate human rights. A look at past cases addressed by the European court of human rights sheds light on how these policies fare under human rights law. Regardless of who mandatory vaccination is directed at, human rights feature quite prominently in the discussion.
The Strasbourg court published a press release informing that it decided not to grant interim measures to suspend the compulsory vaccination programme of medical professionals in Greece. The request for such measures was submitted by 30 doctors, nurses, paramedics from public and private practices in Greece. The court usually issues interim measures when the applicants can show that they face irreversible harm. If the measures are granted, the court orders the respondent governments to freeze the situation until it has a chance to deal with the substance of the case.
This Greek case is not the first time the human rights court has dealt with compulsory vaccinations. In April 2021, the court decided the case of Vavřička and Others v the Czech Republic. This case originates from the pre-COVID times and deals with the Czech policy of mandatory vaccination of children, but it can be used as a guide for the new policies in this area.
In the Czech Republic, children must undergo mandatory vaccination for several diseases. If parents do not comply with this policy, they can be fined and the children cannot attend preschools.
Although the European court of human rights agreed with the applicants that this policy interferes with their right to private life, the court thought that this interference is justifiable. The Czech government managed to persuade the court that their policy is necessary to protect the health of the population.
Therefore, if the policy allows exceptions and can prove that its benefits are greater than the interference with private life - it is justifiable.