Vavřička and Others v. Czech Republic, Nos. 47621/13 and 5 others, ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 8 April 2021
The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ruled against the Czech Republic on a number of applications pending since 2013, finding the imposition of mandatory vaccination against nine pediatric infectious diseases compatible with the Convention.
The applicants had been sanctioned for failing to comply with the vaccination requirement for their children, with a fine and the subsequent exclusion of their children from the school. Those measures were laid down by the Czech Law No. 258 of 2000 (on Public Health Protection Act, “Zákon o ochraně veřejného zdraví”) and by Law No. 200 of 1990 (Minor Offences Act, “Zákon o přestupcích”).
The Grand Chamber verified the compatibility of the national measures with Article 8 ECHR, which protects private life, by carrying out the proportionality test provided for in paragraph 2 of the provision.
The Court found that, on the one hand, the vaccination requirement constituted an interference with private life but, on the other hand, in the present case that interference was prescribed by law. Furthermore, it found that the measure pursues a twofold legitimate aim, protecting health both in its individual dimension and in its collective dimension of public interest. Finally, it established that compulsory vaccination was a pressing social need: the Government had shown that if vaccination became a recommended procedure rather than a compulsory one, a fall in the rate of vaccination would pose a serious risk to individual and public health.
The Court therefore held that it was not disproportionate to require those for whom vaccination posed a remote health risk to accept it. On the contrary, this universally practiced protective measure is part of the duty of social solidarity, for the sake of the small number of vulnerable children who cannot benefit from vaccination (para. 306).
Finally, regarding Art. 9 ECHR, the Strasbourg judges considered that the institution of conscientious objection was not applicable to the instant case, due to the lack of the requirements of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. In the case of the applicant Vavřička, in particular, the philosophical or religious aspects in support of the objection were entirely secondary, put forward only in a second moment and in no way substantiated by concrete elements (paras. 330 ff.).
(Comment by di Tania Pagotto)