Compulsory Childhood Vaccination: Human Rights, Solidarity, and Best Interests

David Archard, Joe Brierley, Emma Cave

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In Vavřička and Others v the Czech Republic, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (‘the Court’) considered for the first time whether compulsory childhood vaccination can be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The majority found the Czech Republic’s vaccination policy to be ‘fully consistent with the rationale of protecting the health of the population’ and within the wide discretion (‘margin of appreciation’) given to Member States on health issues. The policy struck a fair balance between the protection of children against serious diseases and the protection of families from the consequences of refusal.

Dissenting Judge Wojtyczek agreed that mandatory vaccination can be Convention-compliant but argued that the facts did not support such a conclusion in this case. He thought that the majority’s consideration of the public interest did not give adequate weight to the best interests of individual children, as opposed to the interests of children in general, or to the particular risks, costs, side effects and benefits of each vaccine as opposed to the ‘general consensus over the vital importance of this means of protecting populations against diseases’.

Filed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the case will be of broad interest given the long-term political and legal debate around compulsory childhood vaccination. Whilst the UK is one of several European countries which maintain a voluntary vaccination programme, a growing number impose restrictions on voluntariness. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of a link between mandatory vaccination and a higher uptake of vaccinations and reduction in disease. We explore the reasoning in the judgment and its implications for children’s rights and in the debate around COVID-19 vaccination.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Law Review
Early online date19 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 19 Jul 2021

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