The ruling is the first time that the European Court of Human Rights has weighed in on the issue of compulsory vaccinations. The decision could play a role in efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled on Thursday that compulsory vaccinations would not contravene human rights law — and may be necessary in democratic societies.
The ruling came following the evaluation of a complaint brought to the court by Czech families regarding compulsory jabs for children.
"The measures could be regarded as being 'necessary in a democratic society,'" the court judgment read.
Although the ruling did not deal directly with COVID-19 vaccines, experts believe it could have implications for the vaccination drive against the virus, especially for those who have so far stated a refusal to accept the jab.
This judgment "reinforces the possibility of a compulsory vaccination under conditions of the current COVID-19 epidemic," Nicolas Hervieu, a legal expert specializing in the ECHR, told AFP news agency.
The decision said that the compulsory vaccines administered by Czech health authorities were in line with the "best interests" of children.
"The objective has to be that every child is protected against serious diseases, through vaccination or by virtue of herd immunity," it added.
The court ruled that the Czech health policy was not in violation of Article 8 on the right to respect for private life in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
By Czech law, children must be vaccinated against nine diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and measles.
The case was brought to the court by families who had been fined, or whose children had been refused access to a nursery for failing to comply with their legal vaccination duty.
Countries across Europe have seen a swell of disinformation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This has led people to not only be skeptical about the coronavirus itself, but also about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Anti-vaxxers — people who refuse to receive vaccines, or to vaccinate their children — have spread various conspiracy theories about why governments want to vaccinate their populations.
As a result, governments may be contending with large segments of society who refuse to be vaccinated, making the goal of herd immunity that much more difficult.
Although the ruling by the ECHR may have set the precedent that obligatory vaccinations do not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, this does not mean European countries will force people to be vaccinated.