Mandatory vaccination could be “necessary for the overall good”, one of Ireland’s leading immunisation experts has said.
Professor Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), said the controversial measure would have to be given “careful consideration”.
Her comments follow minutes from a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) that revealed the issue is to be discussed by public health experts.
“I think this is something that really has to be thought about. There are pros and cons to mandatory vaccination,” Prof Butler told RTE’s Today with Claire Byrne on Monday.
“I know this has been looked at by the department and a paper is being done on that and careful consideration will be given to it.
“It’s always preferable if people can look at vaccinations, have the information, and be able to make informed decisions for themselves and get it.
“But there can be situations where making a vaccine a requirement is necessary for the overall good.
“But that’s being looked at at the moment.”
Recently published minutes of Nphet on December 16 said the issue would be discussed “at a later date”.
A paper will set out the “relevant ethical and legal considerations pertaining to this topic”, the minutes state.
“I have to say I’m puzzled by all of this. I mean, we have a huge level of take-up of vaccination, including booster shots,” she told RTE News.
“I don’t believe that mandatory vaccination is a good idea. I think it’s a path that we should not walk down.
“The facts are that people have demonstrated that they are very thoughtful, very responsible, in terms of keeping themselves, their families and their communities safe.”
She added: “The public voted with their feet and in huge numbers have taken up vaccination.
“A small percentage have not and that of course is their right.
“But I don’t think you will win people to the desirability of vaccinations by making it compulsory, in fact, I think it could have a counterproductive effect.”
Sinn Fein’s health spokesman, David Cullinane, has also said he would not support the move.
“The voluntary vaccination programme has served us well. Mandatory vaccination would be a mistake,” he wrote on Twitter.
“People were given the opportunity to listen to the medical & scientific experts & made their own judgments.
“Vaccines work but the voluntary system in my view works best.”
Earlier, Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid indicated he would prefer vaccines to remain voluntary.
“I would prefer to be winning people’s heart and minds,” he said, referring to Ireland’s already high take-up of vaccines.
Mr Reid said any decision would ultimately be up to the Government.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has previously backed the voluntary system over compelling the public to get jabbed.
Speaking to Newstalk in December, less than a week after the Nphet meeting where the issue was raised, Mr Martin noted Ireland’s high vaccination levels and said there were “no guarantees” mandatory vaccination would work.
“I’m personally of the view that we stick with the voluntary system,” he said.
“It’s worked in Ireland, more than anywhere else in the world, at 94% fully vaccinated.
“You go across Europe and you’re looking at 60% vaccination in some places.
“Some of those countries are now talking about mandatory vaccination.
“There’s no guarantee that will work, by the way, in itself.
“I was listening to one prime minister talking about fines of 600 euros (£500) every three months – that’s what a mandatory regime looks like.
“In my view, we have to keep pushing the voluntary approach, which has achieved an enormous amount.”
Mr Martin has previously hit out at those who have not been vaccinated, saying they were having a “disproportionate” impact on the health service and that it was “clear as daylight” they were endangering their own health and the health of others.