PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government will order COVID-19 vaccinations for people working in hospitals and nursing homes as well as police officers, soldiers and some other professions and all citizens aged 60 and older, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Monday.
The country of 10.7 million lags the European Union average in COVID-19 vaccinations and is going through another wave of infections that has forced hospitals to cut non-urgent care and call for help from the army and volunteers.
Neighbouring Austria has mandated vaccinations for all citizens, and some other countries including Germany have been debating vaccination mandates.
“Other countries are taking this path,” Vojtech said. “It is a trend that will prevail across Europe.”
Speaking to reporters through a video link, as he is in isolation after testing positive for the virus, Vojtech said his ministry would issue a decree adding the COVID-19 shot to other compulsory vaccinations this week, confirming earlier media reports.
Those who refuse would be barred from working in the selected professions, he said.
The order should take effect from March but may have a short lifespan, at least in its current form, because a new centre-right government which may take power as soon as next week has protested against compulsory vaccinations based on age.
A senior member of the incoming coalition said on the weekend that the future Cabinet would scrap the mandate for citizens over 60, but may uphold the obligation for selected professions.
Vojtech said he would still go ahead with the decree.
“We are convinced that this is the right path in principle,” he said.
Only 59.6% of Czechs are vaccinated, compared to an EU average of 66.4%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
An opinion poll by the STEM agency released on Friday showed 19% of the population remained opposed to getting the shots.
It said the public was evenly divided on supporting or rejecting compulsory vaccination.
The Czech Republic has reported 33,768 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the worst rates per capita globally.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Paul Simao)