Leaders in a growing number of countries worldwide have been accused of infringing on their citizens’ rights by mandating compulsory vaccination against Covid-19.
But such policies have been praised too, as a vital measure to tackle vaccine hesitancy and boost public immunity as the pandemic rages on. With infection rates rising across Europe and many other regions, countries with higher vaccination rates “have the best shot at a manageable winter”, said the BBC’s health correspondent James Gallagher.
Austria, which has one of Europe’s lowest vaccination rates, is “about to become a testing ground for overcoming vaccine skeptics”, said Bloomberg. In an effort to tackle high cases rates and low vaccination levels, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced last week that from 1 February citizens must be fully vaccinated, with those who refuse facing possible fines of up to €3,600 (£3,000).
Thousands of people took to Vienna’s streets in protest, and “several demonstrators wore yellow Stars of David or carried placards that compared the mandate to the Holocaust”, said Liam Hoare, Europe editor for Moment magazine, in The Guardian.
With experts also divided about whether Covid jabs should be compulsory, “nations that continue to struggle with outbreaks and stubbornly low vaccination rates will be watching Austria’s vaccine mandate rollout closely, possibly as a roadmap of things to come”, Hoare wrote.
Neighbouring Germany had previously promised not to introduce a mandate, but Angela Merkel has told her party that the current coronavirus measures are “not sufficient”, The Independent reported last week. At present, proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid is required to enter large events, as well as sports and leisure facilities.
The outgoing health minister Jens Spahn has warned that Germans “will have been vaccinated, recovered or died” by the end of winter, and tourism commissioner Thomas Bareiss has said compulsory vaccination will become “unavoidable” as case levels continue to rise.
And evidence from countries that have mandated vaccination for some workers and venue access has proved effective in slowing infection rates. In September, France introduced compulsory vaccination certificates for healthcare workers, and a ‘health pass’ became essential in July for access to cafes and restaurants, as well as planes and trains. Since then, “vaccination rates have rocketed,” while “Covid-19 cases have plummeted”, said Fortune.
The mandate was a politically risky move, “especially since Macron faces a tough re-election battle next April”, and some measures “proved deeply controversial”, the magazine continued. Suspending unvaccinated health workers was one such stipulation that sparked weekly protests. But so far, “Macron’s gamble appears to be paying off.”
Governments outside Europe are also facing political challenges as they attempt to mandate vaccination. In the US, Republicans successfully stalled the legislative approval of a government-issued mandate that would make vaccination, or weekly testing, compulsory for workers in companies with 100 or more employees from 4 January 2022. Joe Biden yesterday filed an emergency court motion for the measure to be reinstated immediately, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the body that would implement the mandate, faced “many lawsuits challenging the rules”, arguing that it had “engaged in unlawful government overreach”. Proponents, however, had indicated that the mandate, which would save more than 6,500 lives according to the OSHA’s estimates, “doesn’t go far enough”, the newspaper continued.
It remains to be seen whether the mandates will become law, and it could be months before the effectiveness of compulsory vaccination can be assessed. For now, here are the countries that have mandates in place.
Indonesia mandated vaccination for all adults in February, while Micronesia and Turkmenistan followed suit in July. Austria will be the first European country to make vaccine passports compulsory from February 2022.
In many countries, ‘no jab, no job’ rules have “often been met with fierce opposition and warnings over an exodus of workers”, said The Telegraph. Of those, the US “has perhaps seen the most vocal pushback”.
Saudi Arabia made double-jabbed status mandatory for all state workers in May. Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Fiji, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Russia, Tunisia, Ukraine and the US have all made similar moves for certain workers. “In Moscow, the mandate has sparked a black market in the creation of fake QR codes”, the newspaper continued.
Health workers in Australia, France, Greece, New Zealand and the UK are similarly required to show proof of vaccination.
Kazakhstan has introduced compulsory vaccination or weekly testing for working groups of more than 20 people, with a similar rule for in-office workers and public transport employees in the Philippines applying from 1 December.
In much of Europe, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Romania, proof of double vaccination is essential to enter indoor social venues such as clubs, cafes and museums. This rule also applies in Lebanon, Morocco and some regions of Russia.
From 1 December, Kenya also requires double vaccination for entrance to hotels, bars, national parks and restaurants, as well as schools, transport services and some state offices. The news was welcomed by some, but critics said that the country’s low double-vaccination rate – just 8.8% of the population – make it “unrealistic”, Reuters reported.
This vaccination rate is higher than the average across African nations, which is less than 5%. The low uptake is due to “global inequities in vaccine supplies, not because Africans do not want to be vaccinated”, according to the World Health Organization.