March 30. 2023. 4:36

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Mandatory Covid-19 vaccination must be discussed, says von der Leyen

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen: ‘I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now.’ Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 is something that needs to be discussed, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said.

The Austrian government has said that vaccination against the disease will become mandatory by February and the incoming German chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed support for the approach, according to German media reports.

Several European countries have introduced profession-based vaccination mandates, including Italy, France, and Greece, in a bid to increase the percentage of the population protected against Covid-19 and bring down deaths and hospitalisations from the disease.

Von der Leyen, who is a licensed physician and worked as a doctor before becoming a politician, told journalists that it was “understandable” that this policy choice is discussed.

“If you’re asking what my personal position is, two or three years ago I’d never have thought to witness what we see right now, that we have this horrible pandemic, we have vaccines, the life saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere,” she said.

“I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now, how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the EU,” she added.

“This needs discussion. This needs a common approach but it is a discussion that I think has to be led.”

The overall EU vaccination rate among its whole population is 66.2 per cent, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and hospitals in several countries are struggling to cope with the number of people falling seriously ill and dying with the disease.

Omicron concerns

Regarding the new Omicron variant, von der Leyen said that scientists were studying it to understand whether changes to its spike protein will mean it is better at evading the antibodies produced by vaccines.

“We know enough to be concerned,” she said. “What science tells us already is that full vaccination and boosters provide the strongest protection against Covid that is available now.”

The vaccine company BioNTech, which produces the most commonly-used vaccine in Ireland alongside pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, has said that it will take about two weeks to establish the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant.

If its vaccine needs to be updated, it could be developed in time for the first batches to arrive in about 100 days, the company estimated.

Some 360 million doses of vaccines are due to be delivered to the EU by the end of the first quarter of 2022 under current contracts with Pfizer and Moderna, von der Leyen said, “sufficient for all fully-vaccinated Europeans to get a boost.”

Covid-19 vaccines for children produced by Pfizer, which were approved for ages 5 to 11 by the European Medicines Agency last month, will arrive sooner than expected following discussions with the company, she added.

“Children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13th,” she told journalists, ahead of the previously expected arrival time of towards the end of the month.

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