The European Court of Human Rights holds that imposing penalties for failing to comply with a vaccination policy did not breach human rights

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Vavřička and others v Czech Republic concerned the Czech Republic’s national statutory requirement for children to receive vaccinations against nine diseases.

One applicant was fined for not having his children vaccinated, and the other “child applicants” had their enrolment in preschool denied or revoked for failing to have the required vaccinations.

The six applicants argued that the penalties they had suffered for not complying with the vaccination requirement breached the European Convention on Human Rights, including:

  • the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life, and
  • the Article 9 right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Although the Court found that the Czech Republic’s vaccination policy interfered with the applicant’s Article 8 rights, it held that this was justified as the legitimate aim of the relevant legislation was to protect against diseases which may pose a serious health risk. The vaccinations protect both “those who receive the vaccinations concerned as well as those who cannot be vaccinated and are thus in a state of vulnerability, relying on the attainment of a high level of vaccination within society at large for protection against the contagious diseases in question”.

The interference with Article 8 rights posed by the vaccination policy was also proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. The fine imposed was a “modest sanction”, and the Czech Government had the option to exclude those who had not been vaccinated from preschool to protect children who were not able to be vaccinated. The effects on the child applicants were also limited in time, as their vaccination status would not affect their admission to primary school when they reached mandatory school attendance age.

In relation to Article 9, the Court considered whether the applicants’ right to freedom of thought and conscience extended to their “critical stance towards vaccination”. It found that the applicants’ beliefs were not of sufficient cogency to be protected under Article 9.

This case suggests that human rights issues might not prevent compulsory COVID-19 vaccination policies. However, it is important to note that the outcome of this case was fact specific and that, based on different facts, another outcome could be possible.