The World Health Organisation (WHO) executive director Europe, Dr Rob Butler, has said that compulsory vaccination would be a last resort in the fight against Covid-19.
The vaccine mandate was one tool in the tool box, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.
“Compulsory vaccination can but does not always increase uptake and there are lessons of history here that we have to take into account,” Dr Butler said.
“Mandates often come at the cost of trust and social inclusion that can polarise communities, so mandates have to be used with care. It's a healthy debate to have now. I would say it is our last resort.”
Dr Butler said that he kept hearing the blame game, but that it was no one individual, or policymaker's, versus community fault. “We've got to get these suboptimal rates down, but we need to target the populations that are unvaccinated to try and bring the curve down.”
The WHO was constantly looking at every age group in real time about vaccination, the bigger question was how to get the 45 per cent that are eligible for vaccine vaccinated, Dr Butler said.
In some countries there were very low levels – that was due to three Cs - complacency, convenience and confidence, he explained.
Some countries did not have confidence in the vaccine or in the authorities that deliver them, he said. There were also issues of access and service delivery in some countries.
Current Covid-19 wave
Dr Butler explained that the current wave of Covid in Europe was happening for a number of reasons.
The half million deaths projected, could be down to three factors – “the first is we have this winter seasonality behaviour, of course we're moving indoors particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Europe, where mask use, ventilation is going to become all the more important.”
Dr Butler pointed out that a British Medical Journal study last week showed a 53 per cent reduction in transmission with mask use.
“In the region we see only 48 per cent of the one billion people in the 53 member states of the European region using masks, so we think there's a real opportunity to boost mask use to see a real dividend in terms of reducing that projected number of deaths.
“The second reason this is happening is there's just too many people still vulnerable to infection in Europe,” he added
“We have 54 percent of the population vaccinated which means 45 percent or thereabouts remains unvaccinated in the region.
“The vast majority of those hospitalised today are the unvaccinated, the most vulnerable in our population, and also we're seeing some waning immunity especially after 30 weeks of a full course, those are two reasons.
“The third reason would be the more transmissible Delta variant which is accounting for 99 percent of the cases in our region.
It is a worrisome picture, but it is avoidable and that's our message today.
The WHO message was one of hope, he said, “in the sense that we know how we can reduce this burden, and we would really promote mask use and absolutely promote reaching every last individual with vaccines, there are pockets of the population that the Delta variant is seeking out.”
Dr Butler also said there was a need to promote booster vaccinations among the elderly, healthcare workers and the immunocompromised. He hoped that if offered a booster vaccine that they would be accepted.
“The other stabilisers which would make a real difference is ventilation and more work on treatment and therapeutics.
“This is a moving target, we have to wait and see if three doses will be sufficient for a longer period or lifelong immunity.”