Vaccination
Vaccination iStock

The European Court of Human Rights upheld moves made in the Czech Republic whereby parents were fined or their children refused entry to preschool because their children were not vaccinated.

According to the court ruling, "There had been no violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights" in the measures taken against the families.

The court said that, on the one hand, "compulsory vaccination, as an involuntary medical intervention, represents an interference with physical integrity and thus concerns the right to respect for private life, protected by Article 8 of the Convention."

However, it said it "recognized that the Czech policy pursued the legitimate aims of protecting health as well as the rights of others, noting that vaccination protects both those who receive it and also those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and are therefore reliant on herd immunity for protection against serious contagious diseases. It further considered that a wide 'margin of appreciation' was appropriate for the respondent State in this context."

It also argued that "In the Czech Republic the vaccination duty was strongly supported by the relevant medical authorities. It could be said to represent the national authorities’ answer to the pressing social need to protect individual and public health against the diseases in question and to guard against any downward trend in the rate of vaccination among children."

"The judgment emphasizes that in all decisions concerning children, their best interests must be of paramount importance. With regard to immunization, the objective has to be that every child is protected against serious diseases, through vaccination or by virtue of herd immunity. The Czech health policy could therefore be said to be consistent with the best interests of the children who were its focus.

"The Court also observed that the vaccination duty concerned nine diseases against which vaccination was considered effective and safe by the scientific community, as was the tenth vaccination, which was given to children with particular health indications."

The court added that "The measures complained of by the applicants, assessed in the context of the national system, had been in a reasonable relationship of proportionality to the legitimate aims pursued by the Czech State (to protect against diseases which could pose a serious risk to health) through the vaccination duty."

Ultimately, the court concluded that "The impugned measures could be regarded as being 'necessary in a democratic society.'"

The ruling was concerned with "vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae type b infections, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and – for children with specified health indications – pneumococcal infections."

However, some have pointed to the ruling as also paving the way for future Covid-19 policy.

Nicolas Hervieu, a legal expert specializing in the ECHR who teaches at Sciences Po in Paris, told AFP that the judgement "reinforces the possibility of a compulsory vaccination under conditions of the current Covid-19 epidemic."

He added that the judgement endorses "the principle of social solidarity which can justify imposing vaccination on everyone, even those who feel less threatened by the disease, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable people."

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