Vaccine hesitancy: how should governments react?

Countries in Europe now have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. But the pace is slowing down in many areas, with people not turning up for their vaccination appointments. The summer weather and low infection rates are making people hesitate even if they are not anti-vaxxers. Governments are trying to counter this, with some resorting to drastic measures. The media response is either approving or indignant.

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Neatkarīgā (LV) /

Our democracy is gone

In Latvia the government decided this week to make vaccination obligatory for groups like teachers, social workers and doctors. Employers can also sack their staff if they have not had the vaccine by 15 September. Neatkarīgā is appalled:

“There are two types of nation: democratic and authoritarian ones. An authoritarian leader can explain that Covid doesn't exist and then one year later make it obligatory for everyone to get vaccinated. But things are different in democratic countries. Latvia is an EU member state and the trend in Europe is not to discriminate against unvaccinated people. ... Democracy is better than authoritarianism. ... But the situation is crystal clear and we will soon have compulsory vaccination. At least the police haven't started hunting down the unvaccinated on the streets yet.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Missing the point

Új Szó chastises Slovakia's politicians for being completely out of sync with the rest of the EU:

“In most European countries politicians have understood what is at stake here. Both government and opposition politicians are generally trying to convince citizens to get vaccinated. ... In Slovakia, on the other hand, the leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties are campaigning against discrimination: even if someone doesn't want free vaccination, their freedom should not be restricted.”

Ta Nea (GR) /

Human life has top priority

In Greece, compulsory vaccination is being discussed for certain sectors such as the healthcare. Ta Nea supports the idea:

“The measure produced positive and palpable results in many other countries, such as Italy, where 98 percent of healthcare workers are vaccinated. One must also examine the prospect of compulsory vaccination of workers at old age homes. These are lines of work in which there is an urgent need for solidarity and for the collective protection of public health. The peddling of conspiracy theories and negativism is unacceptable at a time when Greece, along with the entire world, is battling to urgently return to normalcy and to make human life the top priority.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

We all have to surrender our freedom sometimes

Olivier Babeau, president of think tank Institut Sapiens, which according to the newspaper Libération has links to the pharmaceutical industry, speaks out in favour of compulsory vaccination in Le Figaro, rejecting the argument that compulsory vaccination is an attack on freedom:

“First of all, it overlooks the fact that we already live with many, much more far-reaching restrictions: take the lockdown, for example, which took away our freedom of movement, or speed limits, or even compulsory seat belts. ... Why should this new obligation feel more detrimental to freedom than those we accepted long ago without kicking up a fuss and calling for a revolution? The social contract is based on the idea that we all have to surrender some of our freedom in order to live in a free society.”

Denik (CZ) /

Rewarding irresponsible behaviour

Deník also takes a hard line:

“Some people seem to think that mandatory vaccination smacks of totalitarianism. We live in freedom, everyone can decide freely. But freedom is only freedom if citizens also bear responsibility. ... The dwindling demand for vaccinations indicates that a large part of our society is not behaving responsibly. In such instances, the democratic state is called upon to favour the responsible and put the irresponsible at a disadvantage. Slovakia is currently showing the way: it sends every unvaccinated person entering the country into quarantine. Plus they have to personally foot the bill for any tests that are required.”

Lrytas (LT) /

Let's not play Russian roulette

The potential long-term consequences of a Covid infection are still being underestimated, warns Julius Kalibatas, chairman of the Lithuanian Family Physicians' Association on Lrytas:

“Unfortunately, a quarter of patients have complaints after surviving the infection and suffer from what is known as Long Covid. ... There is still a lot we don't know about the long-term effects of Covid-19 on the human organism and the symptoms that remain for a long time or even for life. But we know very well that the only thing that can protect us from infection with Covid or even save our lives is vaccination. ... Let's not play Russian roulette with our lives and the lives of others.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

It's worth it for freedom and joy

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calls on politicians to take the initiative:

“A small nudge to sway people in favour of vaccination could be to make it very clear that this autumn and winter, for the time being, only people who have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid will be able to go to restaurants, cinemas or the theatre. Everyone is free to refuse vaccination. But in a crisis like this, such freedom must come at a price. Because the number of testing centres is likely to decrease again soon, and hurdles for the unvaccinated will rise automatically. So if television instead of opera, delivery services instead of restaurants and beer from the fridge rather than freshly tapped are too much of a sacrifice, you know what to do.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

Blackmail is not the way to go

In Greece, as of 15 July restaurant and bar owners and cultural and leisure establishments will be free to decide whether to admit mainly vaccinated people or cater to everyone and take fewer guests. Efimerida ton Syntakton criticises the government:

“It is resorting to divisive methods, blackmail and punishment to boost vaccination rates. Gift vouchers for the young, segregation in restaurants and cultural venues, threats to withdraw financial support for the unvaccinated. ... Day by day, the government is becoming more and more reliant on an automatism that turns one section of the population against the other. But dividing society has never produced positive results.”

Karar (TR) /

Conspiracy or no conspiracy - we still get sick

There is no logic to the stance of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, Karar admonishes:

“Even if everything, including the virus itself, were just a conspiracy, all an invention of the global powers - what does that change for us? We still get sick and die. Will believing in a theory protect us from being intubated or dying? Besides, our addiction to technology has already made us transparent to surveillance. They can look into our heads though the phones in our pockets.”

Polityka (PL) /

Use the perfect weapon

For Polityka the way forward is clear:

“Only mass vaccinations, if necessary boosted by a third dose, can prevent thousands more deaths and over time also lockdowns. The coronavirus will probably be with us for some time but we can drastically reduce its fatality. We have the perfect weapon in our hands; it would be truly stupid not to use it now.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

Tolerating ignorance is part of democracy

The Cypriot government is upping the pressure on those who are vacillating on getting the vaccine. For one thing there are to be no more free rapid tests as of August. The Cyprus Mail sees this approach as misguided:

“Respect for the opinion of others, even when it seems wrong or foolish, has always been a cornerstone of democracy. What we're seeing now is more akin to the central planning that's always been associated with totalitarian regimes. Our government – like most other governments, to be fair – seems to be pursuing a Zero Covid policy which nobody voted on and many would consider unrealistic, meanwhile setting out to sow division and either force the vaccine-hesitant to convert or turn them into scapegoats.”

NZZ am Sonntag (CH) /

Interrail passes for the young!

Why not encourage young people to get vaccinated by offering them a journey through Europe, the NZZ suggests:

“An interrail pass would give them a chance to discover Europe by train. This would be the perfect gift for young people who have been vaccinated and are able to travel again. To encourage them to get vaccinated, yes, but more as a token of gratitude and appreciation. Throughout the pandemic, the young have shown great solidarity and consideration towards older generations that were more at risk. Most of them complied with restrictions to their freedoms without complaint. ... The young certainly deserve this for their contribution to containing the pandemic.” (HR) /

Trust trumps information doubts that the most commonly cited reason for vaccine scepticism really hits the nail on the head:

“The public perception seems to be that people who are reluctant to be vaccinated are ill-informed or uneducated. Although this may hold for a certain percentage of the population, this reluctance mainly stems from a lack of trust. If a recommendation comes from a trusted person or institution, people will act on it, even if they don't understand it. The opposite is also the case - in the absence of trust, people may refuse to act on a recommendation or an argument even if they understand it. Being informed is neither a necessary nor a sufficient prerequisite for action.”