Outgoing and incoming governments at odds over mandatory vaccination as Covid numbers soar

As Covid numbers continue to rise, the Czech Health Ministry is pushing for mandatory Covid vaccination for selected professions and people over 60, to be introduced as of next March. The announcement has sparked fierce controversy between the incoming and outgoing administration on how to prevent the epidemic from spiraling out of control.

“Vaccination is the only way out of the protracted health crisis” – that is a mantra that everyone agrees on. However, there are huge differences as to how this should be achieved. As the Covid death toll crossed the 33,000 mark and the National Reference Laboratory confirmed beyond doubt the presence of the highly contagious African strain Omicron on Czech territory, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch, who himself is in self-isolation with Covid, said it is time to act and protect the most vulnerable and at-risk groups of the population.

The plan is to introduce mandatory vaccination for people over 60 and people in high risk professions such as medical workers, soldiers, police officers and people in the social services. Health Minister Vojtěch said there are ways of enforcing this measure.

Adam Vojtěch | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“We already have means of fining those who refuse to adhere to the restrictions imposed, such as wearing respirators or early closing hours. In this case the persons in selected professions who refuse to comply could be transferred to some other type of work that does not entail close daily contact with the public.”

While the outgoing government of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is receptive to these arguments, the incoming administration headed by Petr Fiala has criticized compulsory vaccination, be it across the board or for selected groups of the population, as divisive. While it has not said outright that it would invalidate such a regulation when it takes over, it has made it clear that mandatory vaccination or a lockdown have no place in its anti-Covid strategy.

The nominee for health minister Vlastimil Válek said the main focus would be on preventing the health system from collapsing.

Vlastimil Válek | Photo: TOP 09

“The minute I take office I will effect three steps which I consider crucial: I will order all hospitals to  restrict elective care so as to even out the burden on hospitals, I will act to standardize the use of monoclonal antibody therapy for patients and, finally, I will increase the number of PCR tests conducted to 200,000 a day.”

When this may come about is not clear. For the time being it is the Babiš administration which is calling the shots and the accent is on increasing the number of vaccination centers and getting as many people as possible inoculated –voluntarily or by order. Before the pandemic the Czech Republic was a country with above average vaccination rates, paradoxically with the arrival of Covid 19 many are shying away from vaccination, with just 68 percent of the country’s 10.7 million inhabitants protected by primary inoculation – a figure that is deeply below the EU average.