The president of the European Commission has said a “discussion” is needed on whether to bring in mandatory Covid-19 vaccination across the bloc.
Ursula von der Leyen said Europe needed to take a “common approach” and said too many people were still unvaccinated.
She made the comments as the Commission urged the EU27 countries to rapidly roll out booster vaccines, amid concerns about the new omicron variant.
Asked whether she supported a move by the Greek authorities to fine unvaccinated older people €100 (£85) a month, the Commission president said mandatory vaccination needed to be considered as a policy option.
“If you’re asking me what my personal position is, two or three years ago, I would never have thought to witness what we see right now that we have this horrible pandemic,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“We have the vaccines, the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere. And this costs… this is an enormous health cost coming along.
“If you look at the numbers, we have now 77 per cent of the adults in the European Union vaccinated or if you take the whole population, it’s 66 per cent. And this means one-third of the European population is not vaccinated. These are 150 million people.”
She added: “This is a lot, and not each and every one can be vaccinated – children, for example, or people with special medical conditions – but the vast majority could and therefore, I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now.
“How we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union, this needs discussion. This needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think has to be met.”
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Elsewhere in Europe, Austria is looking at how to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory from earlier next year, while Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz is said to support the policy, according to German outlet Der Spiegel.
Such a policy does not appear to be on the horizon in the UK, where health secretary Sajid Javid last week said he did not expect the vaccine to ever become mandatory for the general population.
Frontline NHS health workers in England will however be required to be vaccinated from Spring 2022.