- Vaccine mandates continue to be a divisive topic of debate.
- Many parts of the world are grappling not only with the delta variant but concerns over the spread of omicron, a mutation of the virus whose risk profile remains largely unknown.
- The WHO's Europe Director Dr Hans Kluge said Tuesday that compulsory vaccinations should be an "absolute last resort."
LONDON — Covid-19 vaccine mandates continue to be a divisive topic of debate, and the subject remains as salient as ever while the world grapples not only with the delta variant but concerns over the spread of omicron, a mutation of the virus whose risk profile remains largely unknown.
As some countries struggle to encourage a voluntary take-up of vaccines — which are proven to greatly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death from the virus — some governments are considering, or have already stated, that they will introduce compulsory vaccinations.
Experts say there are a number of ethical questions to consider regarding vaccine mandates, but some countries have sidelined concerns in favor of the overall benefit that vaccination confers.
The WHO's Europe Director Dr. Hans Kluge weighed in on the thorny debate on Tuesday, cautioning that compulsory vaccinations should be a last resort.
"Mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort, and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted," Kluge said. They should not be done "if one has not reached out first to the communities" involved, he said at a press briefing.
Mandates "have proven effective in some environments to increase vaccine uptake," Kluge said, but added, "the effectiveness of vaccine mandates is very context-specific. The effect mandating vaccines could have on public confidence and public trust, as well as vaccination uptake, must be considered."
He cautioned that what is acceptable in one society or community may not be in another.
"Ultimately, mandates should never contribute to increasing social inequalities in access to health and social services. Any measure that might restrict a right or a movement of a person, such as lockdowns or mandates, needs to be sure that mental health and wellbeing is cared for," he said.
Only way to stop the virus?
The idea of compulsory vaccinations has been contentious in Europe for a long time, and levels of vaccine skepticism differ wildly from country to country. But the current Covid landscape has made the debate an increasingly prevalent one, and some officials believe mandating vaccines is the only way to stop the virus.
Covid vaccines greatly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death from the virus, but we also know vaccine immunity wanes after around six months and that they are not 100% effective at reducing transmission.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week that it was time to "think about mandatory vaccination" in the EU, in which individual states can impose vaccine mandates. The comments were made as vaccination rates among some member states remain sluggish, and many countries are dealing with a winter surge of Covid cases.