The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest in the show "Vesti" on TV “Vesti”.
The newly elected Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi decided to change the existing law with a new decree, that is, Article 32 of the Italian Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of choice of each individual in refusing treatment and receiving medical care. The decision was made when a week ago, in a private nursing home in the small town of Fiano Romano, not far from Rome, more than 30 beneficiaries became infected with the corona virus. And in Serbia, the Minister of Health, Zlatibor Lončar, said yesterday that we are considering the obligatory vaccination against Covid-19. He pointed out that this is a proposal of the health professionals for now. I am talking about this topic today with the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, welcome. Can vaccination be mandatory at all?
You see, we heard the verdict of the Strasbourg court today…
Yes. That is exactly what I want to talk to you about, I'm just asking in general, to start with.
… the verdict came after the request of the parents of children from the Czech Republic, whose children were not vaccinated and therefore were not allowed to go to kindergarten or kindergartens...
Yes, and a fine followed.
I do not want to argue here with the Strasbourg court, although it would not be my first time, but we have to look at those regulations that are not only local or ours but those that are European and which we have accepted. I do not want to go back to 1948 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so I will mention the European Convention on Human Rights, which states in its Article 14 that discrimination on any grounds is prohibited. Also, our Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, in Article 2, defines discrimination exactly by saying that any kind of distinction is discriminatory. But regarding all this, I think one convention is the most important, and that is the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which actually deals with biological and medical interventions, it is related to the field of health and biological research. In its Article 5 it says, and I am paraphrasing since I can’t quote, that for each medical procedure, the consent of that person or those persons on whom the procedure is performed must be obtained in advance, with the obligation to inform them in advance about that procedure. I think that article is very clear.
And this is a medical procedure.
What is vaccination if not a medical procedure?
Do you think that it maybe isn’t a medical procedure, compared to all those surgeries we have, interventions?
You see, every norm can be interpreted in one way or another. I have offered you a few norms that relate to this area. Why has the court in Strasbourg made the decision it made, I did not have time to read the explanation?
(reads the news) Here, I will tell you briefly, since we already started this topic. The verdict followed the conclusion of an appeal filed by some Czech families regarding the mandatory vaccination of children. The verdict reinforces the possibility of compulsory vaccination under the current pandemic, said Nicholas, a lawyer and expert specializing in the European Court of Human Rights. The decision says, among other things, that the obligatory vaccines prescribed by the Czech health authorities are in line with the best interests of children, Deutsche Welle reports. By the way, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights set a precedent according to which mandatory vaccination must not be in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. This does not mean that European countries will force citizens to get vaccinated, but if they do, that decision would probably be legal in the eyes of the court. The court, it is added, supports the principle of social solidarity, which can justify the imposition of the vaccination on everyone, even those who feel less endangered by the disease when it comes to the protection of the most endangered persons. That's it, now you can comment a little.
It’s all been said. The sentence that this is a precedent indicates a very possible debate, which will surely follow these days, not only in our country, but probably in many European countries that deal with this issue. This begs the question, in this situation which the world and Europe found themselves in, can you order someone to get vaccinated? ... There are many questions regarding illnesses. I am not a doctor, so I do not want to sound unprofessional, but there really are contraindicated diseases. So, people who can't be vaccinated.
But that was also stated, among other things, we talked about it. There are certain situations in which the vaccine is not recommended. That is all nicely said and explained for now.
Yes, but the point is this: if it is a precedent that introduces a certain practice, we will see what that practice will lead to in some perhaps future judgments or proceedings that will be conducted. Let's make it clear, I was vaccinated, I am for vaccination, I speak on my own behalf as Zoran Pašalić, regardless of my function, I consider the vaccine a civilizational achievement. It is known who first brought the vaccine. It is even an interesting story, how the first smallpox vaccine came about, how someone noticed that it could be used as a means for someone to get immunized, and now we have it. We have, on one side, those who think that is not good. The most common reasons are that this vaccine has simply not been tested enough. I have always asked the question in some informal conversations – if that is the thesis, then how do they know that the vaccine is not good, if it has not been tested enough? Now, it's up to everyone to choose. For now, it is up to everyone to freely choose whether to be vaccinated or not. But in receiving the data, albeit from rather modest experiences, Serbia is really a leading country. Its experiences will probably serve many, primarily because of the speed of vaccination, the number of vaccinated people and the beginning of vaccination. I went up and down a bit, the beginning, the experiences of those who were vaccinated in relation to all the other, let’s say, factors...
Have you seen a large number of foreigners, not only here in Serbia, who have registered, who get vaccinated, who come from abroad here to receive a certain vaccine?
Believe me that, I can't name the countries, but my colleagues who do this work abroad called me and asked me how they could come to Serbia. That is, they can come, but how can they get vaccinated.
And then we have examples of certain relevant world media, which we know have never spared us as the country of Serbia, which have been writing absolute praise for the last two weeks. They compare with Serbia, since it is not in the European Union, saying it is much better in this whole business than the entire European Union, a paradise for vaccines, among other things, not to mention other titles and texts.
How can they not write that when things are obvious? The talk about the vaccines went out beyond the borders of our country, first in the region and then beyond, because these are no longer calls only from the region, but much wider. Now citizens in Italy believe that their vaccination will come in a few months, and are trying to reach the Serbian border.
Yes, and today, among other things, their media report on the issue of mandatory vaccination of health workers, as some have complained that there are not enough vaccines and who knows when it will be their turn. We also have the other side when it comes to Italy. But let us return to our problems and situations, if we can call them that. We are talking about health workers, we compare ourselves with Italy in a sense, that is, we are thinking whether it will be like that in our country or not, and under what conditions can it be introduced for other categories of the population, not only for health workers. So, the rights, freedoms of certain categories, health workers are in question. Then it all entails a series of other decisions. Will there also be decisions regarding the vaccination of teachers, professors, all other workers who are in constant and daily contact with people, tellers, cashiers?
You and me both are in constant contact with someone. So, we are entering again, as I already mentioned, the domain of discrimination, of making a distinction. Anyone who has come in contact with other people will say that he is at a greater risk than someone who does not have to do that, either in his job or in the life situation in which he is in, not needing to be in contact with anyone. So, now we have the verdict of the court in Strasbourg, and in my opinion, it should include all those who really should be vaccinated only for medical reasons, i.e. where their disease is contraindicated for vaccination.
Unfortunately, somehow this issue is reduced to politics in our country, not only here, it has been reduced in other countries as well, so somehow the health issue, exclusively a health issue, becomes a political or economic issue and the essence is only one.
You know, economic issues also turn to political issues, so you always basically have political issues. Unfortunately...
But here we are primarily talking about health, people's lives, about all those who are fighting for those lives and who suffer a lot of pressure and have a lot of work, and who knows what, I'm talking about health workers. You know the situation yourself. And I say again, I consider the health the most important issue.
You see, Article 10a of the Law on the Protector of Citizens does not allow me and my deputies to give, comment or explain the political topics in general.
I did not ask you...
No, but I will use what you said because, unfortunately, it has been shown that in our country as well, in such a crisis situation, solidarity is the most important thing to get out of it. Solidarity by definition includes unity. We can disagree on many topics, you and me and anyone here in the studio, and we can argue or not argue, even quarrel, normally within the bounds of decency, but when it comes to people's health and lives, then I think we should be as supportive as possible and achieve the maximum unity. All those who somehow, to be as mild as possible, interpret all this with ridicule or with often unfounded criticism are most often the people, and let no one be offended, who argue hidden behind the keyboard and the computer monitor. I would really ask them to, as much as they can, as much as it is allowed and if it does not harm the work dynamics in hospitals and health institutions, to at least go take a look and see how much effort health workers put in, primarily because of the work that they do, and in general. I have contact with these people and I hear from them, I see these people, I hear their stories. In this situation, they really perform, nurses, medical technicians, all those who practically do jobs in medical institutions and doctors, a really, really hard job. We should appreciate that, nothing else. Appreciate and respect.
This solidarity is exactly what I wanted to ask you about. When I read the rationale of the court, of course, regarding this decision that we are talking about, it mentioned the principle of social solidarity, which you also mention and which you are talking about, among other things. Can this social solidarity essentially justify the obligation to vaccinate or should this social solidarity exist without obligation?
I have listed the articles of declarations and conventions. Often an article can be interpreted in one way or another, and that verdict from the Strasbourg court was reasoned, you read the rationale. I did not really read it entirely, regarding that moment that you mentioned, which I spoke about indirectly, but one thing should always be taken into account – if Europe has accepted a certain norm, then it must live by it or change it.
So, social solidarity. We talked a lot in the last few days about vaccines, vaccinations and so on, so, among other things, we remembered some old times, that is, we remembered by reading about them, since none of us were born then. We talked about typhus.
We can also talk about smallpox, when I was born...
That too, yes. And we found, among other things, an advertisement, that is, an article in the newspaper about typhus, where, among other things, people were invited to be vaccinated, saying, and now I am paraphrasing, that whoever does not receive the vaccine will not get bread and money, something like that, among other things.
A lot has changed since then. At that time, some other rules and some other laws were in force.
But there was no Protector of Citizens back then.
Thank you for that, but many things didn’t exist at that time... First of all, the Universal Declaration was adopted at the level of the UN in 1948, and these European conventions a little later I think, so many things have changed in all that, things are much different. Human rights are constantly advancing. But I will not argue now, I will not look for legal solutions. I am talking about solidarity in the sense of what is obvious. Maybe the court is wrong, maybe I am wrong, maybe that norm is not good, but what has been shown a thousand times in history and unfortunately many times in our country, is that solidarity and unity in solving a problem has always brought benefit to all. That is the essence, there isn’t any special wisdom here.
Yes, then we can also talk about those ideas and suggestions for entering, attending certain sporting events, cinemas, concerts and so on. Some have been vaccinated, some haven’t, we can also see that as discrimination.
I told you what the articles of the law say and what the difference is.
All right, can we say that the vaccines and vaccination are a matter of personal choice only, or a matter of awareness and responsibility for a common good?
You see, we can look at that from both sides. If we look from the aspect of solidarity, then it is a common good, but every common good consists of individual goods. If it is good for us individually, then it is good for everyone and vice versa. So, we have to look at it from that aspect as well. But what is important here? From what I said, it is the Article 5 of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. There is talk of informing, constantly informing people. Doctors appear, explain how the vaccine affects us, what we achieve with the vaccination. I think we have enough of that, if not too much. Excess information certainly does not hurt. And then what do we have on the opposite side? We have the situation where people are faced with dilemmas in a way that is not appropriate in my opinion, and that is mostly without giving any special arguments. Or, if there are arguments, then those opinions should be confronted in order to reach a real solution.
But those arguments should be professional and should come from professionals. Thank you very much.