Making COVID-19 vaccine mandatory is not the right step: WHO

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
  • Follow author on
WHO Image
Representational Image

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it would be much more effective to convince people about the merits of a COVID-19 vaccine than to try to make the shots mandatory.

The organization said that how they want to conduct their vaccine campaigns against the coronavirus pandemic will be down to individual countries.

But the UN health agency insisted making it mandatory to get immunized against the disease would be the wrong road to take, adding there were examples in the past of mandating vaccines use only to see it backfire with greater opposition to them.

“I don’t think that mandates are the direction to go in here, especially for these vaccines,” Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s immunization department, told a virtual news conference.

“It is a much better position to actually encourage and facilitate the vaccination without those kinds of requirements. I don’t think we envision any countries creating a mandate for vaccination.”

Mr. O’Brien said there may be certain hospital professions in which being vaccinated might be required or highly recommended for staff and patient safety. But WHO experts admitted there was a battle to be fought to convince the general public to take the vaccines as they become available.

Mike Ryan
Mike Ryan
Executive Director
Health Emergencies Program

“The vaccine story is a good news story. It is the victory of human endeavor, potentially, over a microbial adversary. We need to convince people and we need to persuade. I think all of us who work in public health would rather avoid making the vaccine mandatory as a means for getting people vaccinated. We are much better served to present people with the data and the benefits and let people make up their own minds. There are certain circumstances where I would believe that the only responsible thing would be to be vaccinated.”

According to the WHO’s overview of different candidate vaccines, 51 have entered human trials, 13 of which have reached final-stage mass testing. A further 163 candidate vaccines are being developed in laboratories with a view to eventual human testing. The world-first roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine is due to begin in Britain on 8th December.

Prioritizing is key

As countries begin deploying vaccines in the coming weeks and months, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged them to prioritize those most in need.
“These are not easy decisions,” he said, setting out the WHO guidelines.

Mr. Tedros said it was a top priority for health workers at high risk of infection, plus individuals at highest risk of serious illness or death because of their age, thus reducing the burden on health systems. He said people with a higher risk of serious illness due to underlying conditions and marginalized groups at higher risk should follow.

The ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) is a global initiative by WHO to accelerate the development, purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments equally, regardless of wealth by pooling risk and reward between rich and poor countries.

The system, however, urgently requires $4.3 billion, with a further $23.9 billion needed in 2021. “What we need now globally is not to enter the land of empty promises in terms of supporting the ACT-Accelerator,” said Mr. Ryan, urging wealthy donors to stump up.

“The means to do this allocation fairly and equitably is there. But what’s not in place is the financing to make that happen in 2021. There’s too much of a gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”