Czech parents who refused to vaccinate their child face fines and unvaccinated kids can’t attend public schools or day care centers.
STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court on Wednesday heard from the lawyers of Czech parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children, while the government argued it has a responsibility to safeguard public health.
Attorneys for six families whose children were refused admittance to schools in the Czech Republic for not completing a mandatory vaccine schedule argued before the European Court of Human Rights that their right to privacy and freedom of conscience were violated.
“The parents are loving and caring parents for whom the interest of their children is an absolute priority,” lawyer Zuzana Candigliota told the court.
Candigliota argued that parents have the right to decide what medical treatments their children are given and that it shouldn’t be forced on them by the state.
Under Czech law, anyone who fails to vaccinate their child can be fined 10,000 Czech crowns ($420) and unvaccinated children are barred from attending state educational facilities, including day care centers.
In light of Covid-19 measures, only the legal teams and one parent were allowed in the courtroom. Most of the attendees, including the judges, wore masks at the beginning of the hearing, but by the end many had been removed.
“Vaccination is the most cost-effective and safe way to prevent diseases and vaccination refusal is a threat to public health,” said Vít Alexander Schorm, arguing on behalf of the Czech Republic.
Schorm argued that countries have an obligation to protect public health and there’s no evidence of widespread health issues as a result of vaccinations.
Anti-vaccination sentiment has spread through the Central European country in recent years. Czech people have some of the lowest confidence in vaccines in the European Union. Estimates show that about 1% of parents refuse to vaccinate their children altogether.
“One of the major factors influencing this situation is the negative attitude of the population to vaccines and especially the measles vaccination, which is fundamentally influenced by anti-vaccine campaigns,” Kateřina Fabiánová of the State Institute of Public Health told Czech newspaper Hlídací Pes.
“Vaccine side effects are not properly studied in the Czech Republic,” Candigliota argued Wednesday.
But the Czech government pushed back.
“We are not here to debate the experts,” said Schorm.
Founded in 1959, the Strasbourg-based court was established by the European Convention on Human Rights and handles cases on human, civil and political rights. The question for the court is whether the mandatory vaccination program violates any of the rights guaranteed by the convention.
Wednesday’s case was brought to the court in 2015, a year before a 2016 decision by the Czech Republic’s Constitutional Court that exceptions to the vaccination requirement could be made for parents who objected on freedom of conscience grounds. There was already an exception for parents who refused vaccinations on religious grounds.
The 17-judge panel will now begin deliberations and is expected to announce its decision later this year.