Europe Imposing Coercive Measures to Accelerate Vaccination Despite Protests
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
In Europe, a new social crisis seems to be emerging. Debates around the limits of the pursuit of health security are on the rise. Lawmakers are advancing with radical health control measures, requiring certificates of vaccination to practice several ordinary civil activities. Popular reactions to these measures are not peaceful but express the collective dissatisfaction of the European people with the constant impositions of their governments – which seem to be trying to perpetuate a sanitary totalitarianism rather than actually defeating the virus.
The intensity of coercion of European governments in the fight against the new coronavirus has increased significantly in recent months. Trying to speed up the vaccination process, several laws and projects have been approved throughout the European Union, creating unfavorable – and even unfair – conditions for those who refuse to receive the vaccine voluntarily. The reasons why some people are refusing to receive the vaccine are numerous but all of them are ignored by EU’s governments. Many Europeans doubt the medical effectiveness of some vaccines, suspicious about the time of testing. Other people prefer to opt for non-Western vaccines, such as Sputnik V or Coronavac, which, unlike Western ones, are not accepted or distributed in all countries. There are also other reasons, such as religious motivations or simple voluntary abdication of immunization. But for all these cases, the response of European legislators is the same: coercion and restriction of civil liberties.
More than a mere decrease in individual liberties, European citizens are gradually being prevented from achieving their most basic means of survival. The requirement for vaccination certificates to obtain vacancies in employment selection processes has created many problems across the continent. Mainly in activities that require direct contact with the public, such as services in restaurants, bars, hotels, and cultural centers, it is currently only possible to be hired if you have been immunized with a Western vaccine. In France, even more advanced in this coercive tightening, some lawmakers are already considering allowing companies not only to stop hiring unvaccinated people but also to fire their current employees who refuse to receive inoculations.
Not by chance, in France, protests are becoming more and more frequent. For weeks, Paris and other major cities have witnessed the rise of popular dissatisfaction with demonstrations taking to the streets demanding an end to coercion. Flags are often written with the word that for more than two centuries has been at the heart of French national ideology: freedom. There is no political focus in the demonstrations, which bring together rightists, leftists, anarchists, and apolitical people. The so-called “yellow vests” have also come back more frequently to express their criticism.
In France (as in the entire Europe), the main indignation is with the so-called “Green Pass”. This “pass” certifies those who have been immunized with vaccines recognized by European health agencies, in addition to showing the results of COVID-19 tests. The main problem with this document is that vaccines not commercialized in the European market are not accepted, which excludes all non-Western vaccines. In this situation, people who chose to wait to get vaccines like the Russian or Chinese ones not only do not know if they will be able to take them, but are also sure that, even taking, they will continue to have their rights reduced.
In other countries, similar situations are taking place. In Italy, the demonstrations have already managed to convince a group of parliamentarians to create bills against the imposition of sanitary norms, mainly defending the immediate end of the Green Pass. Recently, there has been a massive cyber-attack – the biggest in Italian history – and many experts are accusing anti-coercion militants of being responsible for the crime, considering that at the same time the virtual vaccination scheduling system was hacked.
The demonstrations have also drawn attention in Germany, where the vaccination process has slowed down due to popular resistance to receiving inoculations on an almost compulsory way. This situation undermines Angela Merkel’s last days in power, as the government fears that the transition will take place without the expected results for vaccination being achieved.
In fact, this type of situation was inevitable. Europe has for years been committed to values that are inconsistent with any coercive measures and is now suddenly trying to speed up vaccination through actions that curtail civil liberties. It would be naive to think that there is only a concern with “collective well-being” in the lawmakers’ plans: there is a rush to recover the economic flow through the resumption of tourism.
More than that, it is clear that there is a communion of interests between European governments and pharmaceutical multinational companies. If a government really wants to speed up the vaccination process, the first logical step to take is to acquire as many vaccines as possible, but the EU still insists on imposing barriers on non-Western vaccines such as Sputnik V and Coronavac. These vaccines have proven efficiency and are only rejected in Europe because, in addition to the genuine health concern, there is a plan to reconcile vaccination with economic and geopolitical interests. So, considering these factors, it seems really unfair to coercively oblige the population to be vaccinated.
The best that European governments can do is to provide as many vaccines as possible and respect that the process of accepting vaccines takes place naturally, without curtailing civil liberties.
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