Judgment Pl. ÚS 19/14 - the Constitutional Court on mandatory vaccination

31 March 2015

On 27 January 2015 the Constitutional Court rejected a petition proposing the annulment of a provision of the Act on Public Health Protection which sets out general framework for mandatory vaccination. The applicants contested the unconstitutionality of the provision because in their view it ran contrary to Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms as it authorized the Ministry of Health to set the scope of mandatory vaccination by means of a decree. The applicants further argued that mandatory vaccination violates the following fundamental rights: the right to physical integrity and the right to respect for private and family life. Lastly, the applicants submitted that the provision contravenes Article 24 of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine as it does not provide the possibility to claim just satisfaction in case bodily harm is suffered as a result of vaccination.

The Constitutional Court declared the legal regulation of mandatory vaccination constitutional. Firstly, the Court found the content of the contested provision sufficiently clear, comprehensible, and setting out basic attributes and limits of mandatory vaccination against infectious diseases. The Court stated that the authorization to specify the details of the realization of mandatory vaccination given to the Ministry of Health by the contested legal provision is used properly: the respective decree is set within given limits, i.e. without interfering with essential aspects of the subject matter provided for by the statute.

Secondly, the Constitutional Court stated that even though mandatory vaccination against infectious diseases interferes with physical integrity of an individual and/or his or her right to respect for private and family right, this interference is justifiable: a) it is based on law (principle of legality), b) it follows legitimate aim (public health protection), c) it is necessary in a democratic society. Concerning the third criterion, the Court noted that it is not authorized to assess technical aspects of this issue including the reasons which led the legislators to the introduction of mandatory vaccination. However, statistical data provided by the Ministry of Health and international authorities speak in favor of mandatory vaccination schemes as the most effective means of prevention against the spread of infectious diseases and protection of public health. These arguments in favor of preserving the legal regulation of mandatory vaccination (i.e. the interest in public health protection) therefore outweighed the arguments of the petitioners against it (i.e. the rights of an individual to physical integrity and privacy).
In obiter dictum the Constitutional Court called upon the legislators to responsibly consider amending the legal regulation of state responsibility so as to cover possible harm suffered as a result of vaccination. The Court noted that if the state sets out general obligation to keep oneself vaccinated and sanctions a breach thereof, it has to be ready to remedy any harm suffered as a result of mandatory vaccination. Judge Šimáčková gave a dissenting opinion.