European Union President Suggests Countries Within Bloc Make COVID Vaccines Mandatory

The head of the European Union's executive branch on Wednesday suggested making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in the bloc's 27 nations, the Associated Press reported.

A surge of cases across the continent has caused many member nations to once again increase their restrictions and mask requirements. The EU's current vaccination rate is 66 percent.

"It is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now—how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The EU's 27 health ministers are scheduled to discuss the Omicron variant on Tuesday, then share their recommendations. EU leaders will then consider the recommendations at their December 16 summit.

"One-third of the European population is not vaccinated. These are 150 million people. This is a lot," von der Leyen told reporters. "The lifesaving vaccines are not being used adequately everywhere. This is an enormous health cost coming along."

Different EU nations have decided to deal with the virus in different ways. For example, Austria said it will mandate vaccines for all residents beginning February 1. Starting in mid-January, Greece plans to fine unvaccinated residents age 60 and older 100 euros per month until they get the shot.

Olaf Scholz, who will become Germany's chancellor this month, said he would back a proposal mandating vaccines for all people next year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that the European Union make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. Above, von der Leyen talks to the media at the end of the weekly EU Commission meeting, in the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarters, on December 1, 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

"The data is irrefutable: 9 out of 10 Greeks who lose their lives [to COVID-19] are over the age of 60 and more than 8 out of 10 of the people [who die] are unvaccinated," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament.

Slovakia, on the other hand, is considering paying people in that age group 500 euros ($567) to get vaccinated.

An emergency EU summit on the Omicron variant first detected in South Africa had been discussed for days, but it was tough to find a time slot for all the leaders. Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

As of Wednesday, there were 59 confirmed cases involving Omicron in 11 EU nations, an increase of 15 since Tuesday. The Netherlands has found the most cases so far with 16, and the majority involved a history of travel to Africa, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

European Commission, European Union
European Union health ministers will meet Tuesday to discuss the COVID-19 Omicron variant and to make recommendations to EU officials. Above, European Way of Life Commissioner Margaritis Chinas talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the College of Commissioners in Brussels on December 1, 2021. Olivier Matthys, Pool/AP Photo