Legal issues surrounding compulsory Covid-19 vaccination

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Series Details PE 729.309
Publication Date March 2022
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The authorisation of the first Covid-19 vaccines by the European Commission in December 2020 dovetailed with EU Member States' efforts to roll out mass vaccination campaigns to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Amid rising numbers of Covid-19 cases and fears surrounding what might be the impact of the Omicron variant, those efforts were renewed at the end of 2021, including the roll-out of booster doses and vaccines for children. However, despite progress in some Member States, as of March 2022, only 72 % of the EU population is fully vaccinated (primary course).

Low vaccination rates have sparked debates around how to increase vaccine uptake. On 1 December 2021, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was time for the EU to 'think about mandatory vaccination'. Two weeks later, the European Council reiterated the 'vital importance of vaccination in the fight against the pandemic', suggesting the need to step up vaccination campaigns and address vaccine hesitancy. Although there is no common approach to mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 at EU level, some Member States are trying to increase vaccine uptake among their populations by making vaccination compulsory.

For the time being, only three Member States are imposing a vaccination mandate on all adults (Austria) or on specific age groups (Greece and Italy), although Austria has just decided to postpone the application of the obligation. Other Member States require certain categories of workers, e.g. in healthcare or public services, to get vaccinated so as to be able to continue exercising their professional activities (Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Latvia and Hungary), or allow employers to impose such a mandate on their employees (Estonia and, until 6 March 2022, Hungary). Finally, in some other Member States, access to certain public spaces is only possible for those fully vaccinated or having recovered from Covid-19 (Germany, France, Italy and Latvia).

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This briefing looks at the experiences of selected Member States imposing compulsory vaccination for Covid-19 and analyses the EU legal framework applicable to those national rules. It has been written with the contribution of the Directorate for Legislative Acts within the Directorate-General for the Presidency.

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