Brazil’s top court has ruled that citizens can be legally “required” to take a coronavirus vaccine, laying the ground for “sanctions” for those who refuse the jab, despite vehement objections from President Jair Bolsonaro.
The Federal Supreme Court (STF) ruled 10-1 on Thursday that governments at all levels may set out penalties for anyone who declines to take a vaccine, allowing them to bar citizens from certain public places, among other measures. While Justice Ricardo Lewandowski noted in his majority opinion that “forced” immunizations would be unconstitutional, he said local, state and federal officials could impose restrictions on the unvaccinated.
“Each Brazilian will have the obligation to be vaccinated, which does not mean that they may be forced to take the vaccine,” said Justice Alexandre de Moraes.
Compulsory does not mean that. Compulsory means that any non-compliance will lead to a sanction.
The court also determined in a separate case on Thursday that parents are required to vaccinate their children, rejecting an appeal that argued for exemptions based on philosophical, religious or moral convictions.
While Bolsonaro has pledged to make the coronavirus vaccine available to the public once Brazilian regulators give a green light to one of the inoculations under consideration, he has vocally rejected the mandatory vaccination drive, suggesting citizens could be placed under “house arrest” for turning down the jab, among other restrictions.
“Nobody can force anybody to take the vaccine. We’re dealing with lives, where is our freedom?” he said following the court’s decision, later adding: “What did [the court] decide? If you do not get a vaccine, I, the president of the republic, governors, mayors can impose restrictive measures on you.”
You can’t get a passport, you can’t get a driver’s license. You can be put under house arrest, look how beautiful it is. House arrest.
The president also insisted he would not be vaccinated himself, arguing that he already has immunity to the virus after contracting it earlier this year, while also pointing to potential adverse side effects and the lack of legal liability for vaccine developers.
“There in the Pfizer contract, it is quite clear that they are not responsible for any side effects. If you become an alligator, it’s your problem,” he said. “What is worse is tampering with people’s immune systems.”
With no vaccine currently approved in the country, Brazilian authorities have yet to set a date for a mass roll-out. The most recent government vaccination plan, published last week, was met with skepticism after it suggested less than a quarter of the country’s population of 210 million would receive doses on the initial immunization drive. However, with recent polling suggesting that some 22 percent of Brazilians are opposed to taking the vaccine, it’s unclear how many skeptics would follow the president’s lead and outright refuse the jab, thereby risking the penalties authorized by Thursday’s court ruling.