Vaccination is a method for stimulating the immune response against infectious diseases. It is a component of a person’s right to health: the State has an obligation to ensure access to vaccination against major infectious diseases.

What is vaccination?

Vaccination (also called immunisation) is an important part of the health care system. It helps your immune system build a defence against infectious diseases. An infectious disease will not spread further when many people are immune to it. 

A vaccine contains a weakened or killed form of a virus/bacteria. When you get a vaccine, your body begins to produce antibodies – proteins that fight the virus/bacteria. The immune system remembers how to do it and will be prepared if you encounter the same virus/bacteria in the future. 

Vaccination protects not just you individually but also the persons around you, by reducing the risk of diseases spreading in the community. This is known as ‘population immunity' (also referred to as 'herd immunity'). 

example If a person is ill with tuberculosis, but that person’s family and colleagues are vaccinated, the disease will not “find” where to pass on further. Thus, it will disappear faster.

Vaccination and the right to health

In the Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011-2020, the World Health Organisation recognised that:

“Immunization is, and should be recognized as, a core component of the human right to health and an individual, community and governmental responsibility.”

Thus, states have an obligation to ensure access to vaccination against major infectious diseases. 

According to the World Health Organisation, vaccination prevents approximately 3.5-5 million deaths each year. It is especially important for children whose immune systems are not yet developed fully and are vulnerable.  

Patient rights also apply in the context of vaccination. The term “mandatory vaccination” should not be misunderstood: people cannot be forced to become vaccinated. You have a right to provide informed consent to vaccination or to refuse it

Read more about patient rights in this Guide.

Vaccination & Human Rights

Vaccination is related to the right to private and family life and the freedom of assembly. Mandatory vaccination may represent an interference with the right to respect for private life in the aspect of physical integrity. 

In some cases, a lack of vaccination can be a basis for restricting certain human rights, such as the freedom of assembly. This was particularly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic when public gatherings were restricted to protect public health.

About this section

In this section, you can learn more about mandatory vaccination, recommended vaccination and your patient rights in this regard.

Human Rights Guide

A European platform for human rights education