GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) – The World Health Organization does not foresee mandatory vaccinations being introduced around the world to stem the spread of the coronavirus, officials said on Monday.
Information campaigns and making vaccines available to priority groups such as hospital workers and the elderly would be more effective, the WHO said, as the global death toll has topped 1.5 million, according to Reuters calculations.
Britain begins its vaccine programme this week and others are likely to follow soon, so authorities are seeking to reassure people of vaccines’ safety and efficacy in order to get a critical mass to take them in the face of what experts say are conspiracy theories entering the mainstream.
“I don’t think we envisage any countries creating a mandate for vaccinations, ” Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunisation vaccines and biologicals, told a news conference.
“There may be some countries or some situations in countries where professional circumstances require it or highly recommend to be vaccinated,” she added, saying hospitals might be one such instance.
The WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, added: “We are much better served to present people with the data, present people with the benefits and let people make up their own minds, within reason.”
Even when vaccines were developed, research must continue O’Brien said, saying many vaccines for other diseases had been improved over time.
The WHO was still waiting to start discussions with the incoming Joe Biden administration in the United States, which was suffering a “punishing” pandemic, Ryan said. Under President Donald Trump, top donor the United States announced its withdrawal from the body.
The WHO is also still waiting to visit China to study the origins of the coronavirus. “We are planning and hope to be on the ground as soon as possible,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Reporting by Emma Farge and John Revill; Editing by Alison Williams