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'In no circumstances' is forced vaccination OK: UN Rights Chief

Speaking to a Human Rights Council seminar via video message, Michelle Bachelet warned there were significant rights considerations that needed to be taken into account before making vaccination compulsory.

December 08, 2021 / 05:32 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Countries considering introducing vaccine mandates in the fight against COVID-19 must ensure they respect human rights, the UN rights chief said Wednesday, stressing that forced vaccination was never acceptable.

Speaking to a Human Rights Council seminar via video message, Michelle Bachelet warned there were significant rights considerations that needed to be taken into account before making vaccination compulsory.

Any "vaccine mandates must comply with the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination", she said, according to a transcript.

"In no circumstances should people be forcibly administered a vaccine."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the aims sought by countries mulling mandates to protect lives as Europe and other regions battle fierce surges in the pandemic, were "of course of the highest order of legitimacy and importance".


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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But she insisted that "vaccine mandates should be employed only when necessary for achieving compelling public health ends".

"And they should only be considered when less intrusive measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing have demonstrably failed to meet such health needs."

She also emphasised that for any mandate to be acceptable, countries needed to ensure that vaccines are truly available and affordable.

"Unless all people have genuine, practical access to vaccines, vaccine requirements will not be consistent with fundamental human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination," she said.

Bachelet also highlighted that "the actual vaccines employed must also be sufficiently safe and effective to achieve (the) public health aims."

Any mandatory vaccination regime also must be flexible enough to allow for "appropriate exceptions, such as where a vaccination is medically contra-indicated for an individual."

Bachelet said it could be appropriate to restrict some rights and liberties, including conditioning access to schools, hospitals or other public spaces on vaccination.

But forced injections was never acceptable, she said, "even if a person's refusal to comply with a mandatory vaccination policy may entail other legal consequences, including, for example, appropriate fines".

"Where penalties are imposed, they should be proportionate and subject to review by judicial authorities," she said.

There needed to be "appropriate procedural safeguards, including the right to seek a justified exemption and the right to appeal any form of penalty before a fair and independent authority," she insisted.

Looking forward, the UN rights chief said any vaccine mandates introduced "should be subject to frequent official review to ensure they remain necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory."
first published: Dec 8, 2021 05:32 pm

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