Several countries around Europe - such as Austria and Germany - are preparing to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for the general public in order to combat rising case levels.
It comes as the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday (December 1) that it was time to “think about mandatory vaccination” with cases of the potentially more transmissible variant Omicron being reported in Europe.
She said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the EU, although added that it was up to each member state to decide.
In France, Covid vaccinations have been obligatory for healthcare workers and also certain emergency service staff to maintain their work since September 15.
But French health minister Olivier Véran has played down the possibility of that being extended to the general public.
“Obligation means control and punishment, so feasibility is not obvious,” he said on Wednesday.
“We know how to make vaccinations compulsory for the very young, and for infants... In adults, it is more complicated,” he said. He did not rule it out completely, saying it was not “impossible”.
He said that France had instead chosen to use the health pass (pass sanitaire), which has been a “powerful incentive” for people to get vaccinated.
Just over 75% of France’s entire population have been fully vaccinated against Covid. This equates to over 90% of the population eligible to be vaccinated. There are just over six million people who have so far chosen not to get vaccinated despite being eligible.
“Of course, I fervently hope that those who have not yet taken this step to be vaccinated will do so, and without obligation if possible,” Mr Véran said.
Other politicians in France are more forceful in their convictions that vaccinations should be made compulsory for everyone.
Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers, told CNews in a televised interview on December 2 that he believes vaccinations should be mandatory, while Bernard Jomier, a senator and physician, has also openly supported this position.
François Bayrou, founder of the centrist, pro-European political party Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem) shares their view.
“My conviction is that this debate must be open. This has been my position from the beginning. As with all major epidemics, there comes a time when the medical authorities say that the circulation of the virus must be thwarted at all costs,” he told BFMTV on December 1.
What about other countries in Europe?
Austria, Germany and Greece are all heading towards making Covid vaccinations mandatory for either the general public or certain age groups.
Germany tightened restrictions on Thursday (December 2) for non-vaccination people, meaning they are not able to access non-essential shops, restaurants or culture and leisure places. Olaf Scholz, who is set to become the country’s new chancellor, has said he is in favour of mandatory vaccinations. A draft law to this effect has been submitted to parliament and could come into force in February or March next year.
In Austria, where a lockdown has been extended to at least December 11, there are also plans in place to have vaccinations mandatory by February next year.
And in Greece, lawmakers have approved mandatory vaccinations for people aged 60 and over.
Several other countries around Europe, such as Italy, the UK, Denmark and Latvia, have imposed various rules such as obligatory vaccinations for certain professionals or health passes similar to those in France.
Mr Véran said that France’s vaccination rates were a lot better than those in countries considering mandatory vaccinations for the general public. France has the third highest vaccination coverage in Europe, behind Spain and Italy, according to Our World in Data.
The chart below shows the percentage of the entire population of a country who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.