Court undermines mandatory Czech vaccination regime

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Not only religion, but also freedom of conscience in the broadest sense can be a reason for parents to refuse the mandatory inoculation of their child, the Czech Republic’s Constitutional Court said in a ground-breaking ruling on Wednesday. The decision concerned parents who were recently fined for having refused to inoculate their child on the ground of possible health complications.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
Under Czech law, anyone failing to vaccinate their child with a mandatory vaccine risks a fine of up to 10,000 crowns. But some parents believe that vaccines can pose a risk to their children’s immune systems and refuse the inoculation despite facing a fine.

In his reasoning, Constitutional Court Judge, Ludvík Daniel, said that in similar, exceptional cases, the state may forgo the financial penalty, adding that it is always necessary to assess the strength of the parent’s belief as well as the constitutional dimension and urgency of the reasons and the social impact of their decision. He also stressed that simple doubt about the usefulness of vaccination was not a sufficient reason.

Zuzana Candigliota, the defendant of the family concerned, has welcomed the decision:

Zuzana Candigliota,  photo: archive of League of Human Rights
“This case is really important as it can change the current practice. The vaccination of children is mandatory in the Czech Republic but it doesn’t mean that it can be enforced against the parent’s will, although they can be penalised and their children can be prevented from going to kindergarten.

“The change is that parents can now legally object on the grounds of their conscience. There are cases for example when the children are not completely healthy but the parents have no official medical contraindication or the parents have previous bad experience with side effects in another child.”

In reaction to the ruling, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, Štěpánka Čechová, said the ministry respected the court’s decision, but insisted that the vaccination system as such remained unchanged.

The chairman of the Czech Vaccination Society, Roman Prymula said the verdict raised concerns:

“In the Czech Republic we have a system of mandatory immunisation and this law is based on certain fines and constrictions. It means that if you want to inforce this system, you need certain tools to do it.

Roman Prymula,  photo: David Němec
Now, the Constitutional Court has decided to use certain exception from this law, but this exception seems quite fuzzy to us, because it is quite complicated to explain exceptions based on conscience.

“So we suppose there will be a substantial number of people trying to find excuses and we are worried that the number of vaccines will dramatically decline. So those are our major concerns.”

Czech children have to undergo a series of mandatory vaccinations. The most controversial one is the hexa-vaccine, which targets serious diseases including Hepatitis B and is given to children at the age of nine and 15 months. Only about one percentage of the population refuses to vaccinate their children altogether.