Any decisions on mandatory vaccinations are up to each member state, EU Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said on Tuesday after a meeting in Brussels where the bloc’s health ministers exchanged views on the EU response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant.
The commissioner said vaccination remains the main tool to halt the spread of virus variants. She also praised the quick and coordinated introduction of travel curbs soon after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
“We must now focus on stronger testing and contact tracing measures for travellers coming from areas of high risk,” she said, noting that any change to current measures should follow more data on Omicron.
Asked after the meeting of the Commission’s position on mandatory vaccinations, Kyriakides said this was up to each member state.
“We have made it very clear from the beginning, on the EU vaccines strategy and decisions on mandatory vaccinations is the competence of member states,” she said.
The commissioner also said that this should not take the focus away from the need to vaccinate as quickly as possible, and to have non-pharmaceutical measures in place to address the virus.
Kyriakides said that currently 77 per cent of adults and 66 per cent of the EU population has been vaccinated.
She said there are still six member states with an overall vaccination rate below 55 per cent, pointing out that clusters or pockets of less vaccinated countries or regions were a risk for the EU as a whole.
In the same meeting Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas called for a common approach by all EU member states regarding travel restrictions, but also in relation to the measures that can be taken to limit the increase in Covid-19 cases.
Hadjipantelas also referred to the importance of the effectiveness of vaccines in dealing with the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease, stressing the need to speed up booster doses.
He told his counterparts that his ministry has decided to start offering vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 as soon as they are available.
He also said Cyprus has already expressed interest in getting new treatments for Covid-19 through the joint supplies secured by the European Commission on behalf of the member states.