Medical workers at the Clinical Hospital Centre Zvezdara Covid-19 hospital in Belgrade, Serbia, November 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE/MARKO DJOKOVIC
The Serbian parliament is debating changes to the Law on Protection of the Population from Infectious Diseases, which could empower the government to make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory. Voting on the law is being done by urgent procedure and is expected to take place on Thursday evening.
Under current law, vaccination is already mandatory for various diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, viral hepatitis B and others. The government has proposed a change to this provision making vaccination mandatory for “other contagious diseases”.
Around a hundred protesters gathered in front of Serbia’s parliament on Thursday while the session was ongoing to condemn the planned changes, N1 Television reported.
Vladimir Djukanovic, an MP from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, wrote on Twitter that he would also vote against the change, calling the proposal too imprecise.
“I am not an anti-vaxer or a conspiracy theorist, but I am deeply against imprecise and unconstitutional laws that can lead to unforeseeable consequences,” Djukanovic wrote on Twitter, adding that the proposed change was “exactly like that, and I will vote against it”.
President Aleksandar Vucic said earlier on Thursday that Serbia has purchased 1.8 million doses of future COVID-19 vaccines from a variety of partners
“So far, we have procured 1,800,000 doses for the end of this and the whole of next year through the COVAX System, and at this moment it seems that it will be a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – but we are also negotiating with Chinese and Russian partners, negotiating with everyone else who we could purchase a vaccine from, because we need much larger quantities,” Vucic told a press conference.
The COVAX system was launched in April by the World Health Organization, WHO, the European Commission and France to provide access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
Vucic added that medical workers and members of the police and army will be first in line to get the vaccine.
Serbs are deeply divided over the value of the vaccine, often reflecting their political choices. According to a poll released at the end of October by the research publishing centre Demostat, some 51 of respondents who voted for the ruling parties in the June 2020 parliamentary elections would accept vaccination if it is recommended by doctors and experts – and 17 per cent would accept it merely if it is recommended by President Vucic.
But the same survey showed that 48 per cent of the supporters of the various opposition parties that boycotted the June election said they would not be vaccinated against COVID under any circumstances.
Debates on mandatory vaccination are ongoing, and just as divisive, in other countries. Serbia’s neighbour Romania has drafted legislation that would make vaccination against flu, measles and other long-known infectious diseases mandatory in February.
But, despite being ready for a final vote, the legislation has not been voted on in parliament yet, raising concerns among medical experts that MPs might backtrack and not support mandatory vaccination, fearing a loss of votes for doing so.
A new Ipsos survey, from the end of August, in which nearly 20,000 adults from 27 countries took part, conducted on behalf of the World Economic Forum, said 74 per cent of respondents would get a vaccine for COVID-19 if it were available.
The highest rate of intent to access COVID-19 vaccination was recorded in are China, Brazil, Australia, and India. The lowest rate was in Russia, Poland, Hungary and France.
A working paper released by a team of German scientists from the German Institute for Economic Research, in October 2020, said about half the residents of Germany favour, and half are against, a policy of mandatory vaccination.