Copenhagen: The World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe on Tuesday cautioned against making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory, while urging better protection of children among whom cases are high.
WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said compulsory vaccines should be “an absolute last resort and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted”.
Noting that mandates have increased vaccine uptake in some cases, Kluge said that these are “context specific”, and added that the effect mandates may have on “public confidence and public trust” must also be considered.
The regional health bloc also noted that number of cases had increased “across all age groups, with the highest rates currently observed in the five to 14 years age group.”
Kluge urged countries to “protect children and the schools’’ amid the rapid increase in cases among the young in the region, and said the incidence of COVID-19 was two to three times higher among young children than the average population in some places. Children have tended to face less severe cases than more vulnerable populations like older people, health care workers and people with weaker immune systems.
“As school holidays approach, we must also acknowledge that children contaminate their parents and grandparents at home, with a 10 times increased risk for these adults to develop severe disease, be hospitalized or die when non-vaccinated,’’ he said.
“It is not unusual today to see two to three times higher incidence among young children than in the average population,” Kluge told a press conference.
“The health risks extend beyond the children themselves,” Kluge added, noting that children risk passing the infection to parents and grandparents in the home.
Improved ventilation and the use of masks should be a standard at all primary schools as part of a safe learning environment, while avoiding school closures and remote learning, the regional director said.
“Vaccinating children should be discussed and considered nationally,” Kluge added.
The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories, and includes several in Central Asia.