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Czech Republic: Mandatory vaccinations for pre-school children approved by ECHR

Mandatory vaccinations for pre-school children in the Czech Republic have been backed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a landmark ruling.

The case was lodged by families in the Czech Republic who had children refused admission to pre-school or had been fined for refusing to vaccinate their children, in some instances dating back to 2003.

The ECHR said it found no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, rebuffing the parents’ complaints that the government had violated their rights.

While all the cases pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic, the issue of routine vaccinations in children has faced increasing challenges due the spread of the virus. 

That landmark ruling is the first from the ECHR on compulsory vaccinations against childhood diseases, with the judges backing Czech legislation by 16 to 1.

‘The… measures could be regarded as being “necessary in a democratic society”‘ the court said, adding: ‘The objective has to be that every child is protected against serious diseases, through vaccination or by virtue of herd immunity.’ 

Mandatory vaccinations for pre-school children in the Czech Republic has been backed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a landmark ruling. Under Czech law, unless medically exempted, children must be vaccinated against nine generally known diseases, like poliomyelitis, hepatitis B or tetanus. Pictured: A child is vaccinated (stock image)

Mandatory vaccinations for pre-school children in the Czech Republic has been backed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a landmark ruling. Under Czech law, unless medically exempted, children must be vaccinated against nine generally known diseases, like poliomyelitis, hepatitis B or tetanus. Pictured: A child is vaccinated (stock image)

Mandatory vaccinations for pre-school children in the Czech Republic has been backed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a landmark ruling. Under Czech law, unless medically exempted, children must be vaccinated against nine generally known diseases, like poliomyelitis, hepatitis B or tetanus. Pictured: A child is vaccinated (stock image)

‘The Court found that the measures complained of by the applicants, when assessed in the national context, had struck a fair balance with the aims pursued by the Czech State, i.e. protection against diseases representing a serious risk for one´s health.’

Under Czech law, unless medically exempted, children must be vaccinated against nine generally known diseases, like poliomyelitis, hepatitis B or tetanus.

However, jabs cannot be given forcibly, and un-vaccinated children cannot be excluded on the such a basis once they read primary school age. 

The court said 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 who are reliant on herd immunity.

‘The Czech health policy could therefore be said to be consistent with the best interests of the children who were its focus,’ it added.

In one of the five cases involving pre-school exclusions, the family involved refused to allow their daughter to be given the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab.

The child joined school in 2006, but her place was revoked two years later when the family doctor told the headteacher of the school that the child had not received the MMR vaccination. 

A Czech court later backed the school’s decision, saying allowing the child to go to pre-school could endanger others. 

Other parents had been refused pre-school spots, while one father was fined for not vaccinating his children fully. 

The European Court of Human Rights said it found no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, rebuffing the parents' complaints that the government had violated their rights. Pictured: Building of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

The European Court of Human Rights said it found no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, rebuffing the parents' complaints that the government had violated their rights. Pictured: Building of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

The European Court of Human Rights said it found no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, rebuffing the parents’ complaints that the government had violated their rights. Pictured: Building of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

The court said the fine in the original applicant’s case was not excessive. It also said that refusal of admission to pre-school was a ‘preventive rather than a punitive measure’. 

The Czech Republic is not the only country in Europe with mandatory childhood vaccination policies in place.

Both France and Italy have changed their vaccine rules following measles outbreaks in recent years. Similar suggestions have been made in the UK amid a decline in uptake in England in 2018-19.   

Last year, the UN warned that routine child vaccinations have fallen sharply during the coronavirus globally, despite coronavirus vaccines not yet having being approved for use amongst younger people. 

While trials are being undertaken to test whether coronavirus vaccines are safe for children, it is only being given to young people in specific circumstances. The coronavirus vaccine is currently not on the list of routine vaccines given to children. 

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