22nd Jan 2022

EU mulls mandatory vaccination, while urging booster for all

  • Ursula von der Leyen also said any temporary lifting of intellectual properties rights for Covid-19 vaccines will only bring 'uncertainty for scientists' (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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EU member states should step up vaccination campaigns and rapidly deploy booster doses to protect people from the virus and the Omicron variant, which pose a "race against time," the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday (1 December).

Europe is now facing "a double challenge" with the new surge in infections, and the emergence of the new variant which has raised alarm over its unprecedented number of mutations, she told a press conference.

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"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best", she said, arguing that full vaccination and booster shots are a key response against variants.

The EU should also discuss whether mandatory vaccination is necessary to tackle the surge of infections due to the slow vaccine take-up in some countries, von der Leyen also said, as Austria has decided to do, and it is reported the new German chancellor Olaf Scholz similarly intends.

"This needs discussion. This needs a common approach. But it is a discussion that I think has to be led," she added.

Currently, only 66 percent of the EU population is fully-vaccinated, with significant differences between member states and across age groups.

The rollout of vaccines for children aged five to 11-years old is now expected to start on 13 December.

But Brussels said that member states needed to make a renewed campaign to target unvaccinated people in all age groups and deploy boosters for priority groups to increase protection against infection, since immunity gradually begins to wear off after some months.

The chief of the EU executive also announced that there will be 360 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines by the end of March, which will allow all Europeans to get a booster shot.

"That is good news. So go get it," she said.

The EU is among the long list of places that have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring countries - in a bid to control the spread of the Omicron variant.

However, Dutch authorities' analytical work revealed on Tuesday that the variant was already in the Netherlands before it was first reported by South Africa.

Nevertheless, the EU commission has urged EU capitals to commit to a day-by-day review of travel restrictions, ensuring a coordinated approach to the use of the EU Covid certificate, especially for the end-of-year holiday season.

Last week, the EU executive proposed a nine-month expiration date for the vaccine certificate – an issue that EU health ministers are expected to discuss on Tuesday (7 December).

Unanswered Omicron questions

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has pointed out that there are still many questions to be answered about the effect of Omicron on transmission, severity, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines.

But the head of the UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned earlier this week that "the longer we allow the pandemic to drag on by failing to address vaccine inequity … the more opportunity we give this virus to mutate in ways we cannot predict or prevent".

The EU has use one billion doses to vaccinate its own citizens, and has exported 1.4 billion to the rest of the world, according to von der Leyen. Some 300 million doses have been delivered in middle- and low-income countries – of which 165 million have been supplied specifically to Africa.

Pressure to waive

Nevertheless, pressure is mounting on the European Commission to change its position on the issue of the temporary lifting of intellectual properties rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

The waiver proposal was submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October 2020. Now it is supported by a large group of MEPs, developing countries and international organisations.

Von der Leyen said on Wednesday that a waiver will only bring "uncertainty for scientists," whilst compulsory licensing can support countries to create their own manufacturing capacity.

Only 0.6 percent of vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries, compare to over 80 percent in G20 countries.

EU agency: 'Omicron vaccine' approval to take 3-4 months

The EU drug regulator's chief said the bloc is ready to tackle mutations and allow for the fast-track approval of redesigned vaccines. The EU's disease agency said all known European Omicron cases were so far asymptomatic or had mild symptoms.

Omicron shows need for pandemic global pact, WHO says

The emergence of the new and more-contagious Omicron variant has revealed how "perilous and precarious" the Covid situation is and "why the world needs a new accord on pandemics," the chief of the World Health Organisation said.

Surge of infections triggers new restrictions, despite vaccination

The spike in Covid-19 infections is prompting some EU governments to introduce lockdown measures and restrictions for the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, travel operators are calling for coordination and a common approach for booster doses and valid certificates.

WHO warns mandatory vaccination 'absolute last resort'

Mandatory vaccination has become a hot topic in the EU, but the European branch of the World Health Organization has warned that it should be "an absolute last resort". Children, meanwhile, account for the highest infection-rates across the continent.

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