Klaus steps in to stop mandatory swine flu vaccinations for soldiers

President Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

President Vaclav Klaus has stepped in to stop mandatory vaccination of Czech soldiers against swine flu, telling Army staff the order to vaccinate all 16,000 soldiers was “highly controversial, if not unacceptable.” Mr Klaus – formally commander-in-chief of the Czech Armed Forces – announced in a statement on Wednesday that he’d asked the Defence Ministry to make vaccination voluntary. The ministry, it seems, has jumped to attention.

President Klaus appears unconvinced that the Czech Republic is in the grip of a swine flu epidemic. On Thursday he published a letter to the country’s chief hygiene officer asking him to clarify whether the swine flu situation in the Czech Republic indeed constituted an epidemic or pandemic. This information, he said, was crucial in his decisions as commander-in-chief of the Czech Army. Mr Klaus has already published a statement saying soldiers were “not guinea pigs” and called mandatory swine flu vaccination of all 16,000 soldiers plus civilian staff "unacceptable".

President Václav Klaus, photo: CTK
Mr Klaus is not alone in his skepticism. So far the Czech Republic has registered 2,381 confirmed cases of swine flu, with 95 deaths, the vast majority of them among people with existing medical conditions. A number of Czech doctors have publicly refused to vaccinate either themselves or their patients, saying the possible health risks outweighed the benefits. The Health Ministry has accused them of ignorance, saying they lack the proper information.

The Defence Ministry responded quickly to President Klaus’s comments. A spokeswoman said the vaccination plan would be ‘reevaluated’ and the numbers lowered, although no details were provided. For other security personnel – i.e. the police – vaccination is voluntary, and here too skepticism reigns.

Even among the general population only around 30% of those chronically ill patients earmarked for the swine flu vaccine have received the injection. Czechs are a very health conscious nation, but in this case it seems that most of them believe – rightly or wrongly – that the drug companies are pulling the wool over their eyes.