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Europe Covid: Time to think about mandatory vaccines, says Ursula von der Leyen

It’s time for the European Union to ‘think’ about making Covid vaccines mandatory across the bloc, Ursula von der Leyen said, as the continent faces a winter wave of infections.

The European Commission president, speaking in Brussels, said it will ultimately be up to member states to decide their own vaccine policies – but it’s her ‘personal view’ that the time is right to discuss forcing people to get shots to get.

‘We have a third of the population that has not been vaccinated. This is 150 million people – that’s a lot. Not everyone could be vaccinated…but the vast majority could,” she said.

Ms von der Leyen’s comments come after Austria announced plans to make vaccinations mandatory for all eligible citizens by February, with an assistant to incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying yesterday he wants to follow suit.

Ursula von der Leyen has said it is time to discuss making vaccines mandatory across the EU after Germany and Austria decided to force them on citizens.

Europe is currently in the midst of a spate of Covid cases that have seen restrictions return across the continent amid fears of another Christmas spent in lockdown.

Adding to those fears is the emergence of the new Omicron variant, which is thought to be more contagious than the Delta strain and has been detected in Europe.

Ms von dey Leyen spoke at a press conference to discuss what action the EU is taking to combat these dual threats.

She said the European Union has enough booster shots for every fully vaccinated adult to get one, and is urging people to take it within six months of their last shot.

Pfizer vaccines will also be available for children as young as five within the next two weeks after the European medical regulator approves it, she added.

Measures such as masks, hand hygiene and social distancing are also being used, she said, but “full vaccination and boosters provide the strongest protection against Covid now available.”

When asked by a journalist whether she was in favor of making vaccines mandatory for everyone, she replied: ‘First of all, this is purely a Member State competence – it is therefore not for me to make any kind of recommendation.

‘[But] if you ask me what my personal position is, two or three years ago I would never have thought to witness what we see now.

“That we have this terrible pandemic, we have the life-saving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere, so this is a huge health cost.”

“If you look at the numbers, we have vaccinated 66 percent of the entire EU population, which means we have a third of the population that has not been vaccinated.

“This is 150 million people – that’s a lot. Not everyone could be vaccinated, these are very young children and people with medical conditions, but the vast majority could

“Therefore I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now, how we can stimulate and possibly think about how we can have mandatory vaccination within the European Union.

‘This needs discussion, this needs a joint approach, but it’s a discussion that I think needs to be had.’

The European Union needs daily assessments of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit access and protect its citizens from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Europe is experiencing a wave of COVID-19 cases and a growing number of infections from the Omicron variant that the World Health Organization has identified as a variant of concern and which concerns scientists because of its multiple mutations.

“We are currently facing a serious double challenge,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a news conference. “On the one hand, we are in the middle of the fourth wave… On the other hand, we are faced with a new threat, the new variant Omicron.”

The EU executive said the 27 EU members should step up vaccination campaigns now that about 66% of the total EU population has been vaccinated. Vaccines for children between the ages of five and 11 will be eligible for vaccines from December 13.

Von der Leyen also said that since BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna were set to deliver an additional 360 million doses by the end of March, boosters were available to anyone who had received their first injections.

‘That is good news. So go get it,’ she said.

She added that she had understood from drug manufacturers that they would need about 100 days to modify their vaccines if their existing vaccines did not protect against the Omicron variant.

Most EU countries have imposed travel bans on residents of South Africa, where the Omicron was first discovered, along with surrounding South African countries.

The Commission also urged EU members to commit to a daily review of travel restrictions and a willingness to impose all necessary controls, including decisive action if clusters of the Omicron variant are found.

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